It was never going to be easy. When Team Rwanda-Dassi arrived on UK shores a few weeks ago, under the charge of ex-professional Sterling Magnell, they knew little of what to expect from racing against the best of British domestic talent.
The team, comprising four of the brightest young talents in Rwandan cycling; Joseph Areruya, Jean Claude Uwizeye, Samuel Mugisha and Jean Bosco Nsengimana, began their UK tour by jumping straight in at the deep end as guests at the Ryedale Grand Prix in Yorkshire on July 10.
The race, won by Ian Bibby (NFTO), was fast from the outset. Areruya and Nsengimana, having undergone a baptism of fire at the Tour of Colombia last month, lasted the longest, managing to hang with the peloton for three of the four laps. But in the end the team was left without a finisher and a new understanding of what it would take to compete at this level.
Next up was the Chepstow Grand Prix, and another first in the form of crit racing. Nsengimana again showed his strength, but with lapped riders removed from the race it was simply a case of survive as long as possible.
The team then travelled Abergavenny for last weekend’s Grand Prix of Wales. To the surprise of many, Uwizeye managed to get up the road in the early four man break. Once he was reeled in it was Areruya’s turn to show his strength, appearing at the front of the chasing pack. The effort was enough to see Areruya take 46th place behing winner Tom Stewart.
Perhaps more remarkable was the fact that all four of the team placed in the top half of finishers on the day.
“We’re getting what we came for. This is why we are here,” said Magnell after Sunday’s race.
“The guys have pretty much had their lunch taken every race so far, but by less and less each outing. The goal for Team Rwanda-Dassi now will be to break through the barrier in a big way. I’d like to see one of our boys finish in a lead group and pull off a result. It’s a tall order but we’re close.”
One noticeable constant to have come from the UK tour was the amount of support the team have received, and not just from fans but rival teams.
“I think it is really good to have smaller less experienced teams coming to these races,” said Gabby Durrin, DS of Neon Velo.
“It helps to inspire and allow riders to see what level they need to aim to be. It is also important to have diversity at the events instead of the same teams every week.”
British Cycling president, Bob Howden, was similarly enthusiastic about the presence of the young team: “While it is always great to see international teams competing in British races, I am particularly thrilled to see a team from Africa on our roads” said Howden.
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“Team Rwanda deserve great support – not only for the endeavours of their riders but also because of their mission to develop cycling in their own country.”
The tour continues as the team head south, racing the London Dynamo Summer Race on Sunday.
Report by Micky McMahon