'We are just getting started': Israel-Premier Tech launches Field of Dreams project in Rwanda

Pump track and cycling course built in Bugesera to help develop cycling talent in central Africa

Field of Dreams
(Image credit: Noa Arnon)

Watching four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome tackle a newly-built pump track on Friday alongside local Rwandan riders, in front of a raucous crowd of schoolchildren, gave an insight into what Israel-Premier Tech's Field of Dreams is all about.

The Field of Dreams, a project built to help the children of Rwanda into cycling, was launched on Friday, in the presence of the team's co-owner, Sylvan Adams, and Rwandan dignitaries. The site consists of the pump track and a kilometre-long course in Bugesera, southern Rwanda, both of which were raced on on Friday.

This is the culmination of phase one of the team's plan, through its Racing for Change initiative, to help the children of Bugesera, and further afield in Rwanda, through cycling. Cycling is everything in this part of the central African country, with bikes used for everything from visits to the hospital to trips to school.

Adams, speaking to Cycling Weekly on Friday at the track, made it clear that this was not the end: "We are just getting started."

"The next phase is a building," he said, "which will house the academy, which means we will bring coaches, bike mechanics, and other facilities like housing, so we can get people from outside of this region in. This will really be the Rwandan cycling academy."

1200 supporters contributed to the project, as well as funding from Adams, Israel-Premier Tech's co-owner Ron Baron, and other sponsors. It is part of the Community of Hope, an education hub for children founded by Serge Gasore, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

The track's impact was clear to see already, with the local Bugesera Women's Team and other young Rwandans delighting in their new pump track, alongside Froome. With bikes and time, one can only imagine how important it is to the local community.

Field of Dreams

(Image credit: Noa Arnon)

Liliane Kayirebwa, the vice-president of the Rwandan cycling federation, the FERWACY, and the president of the Bugesera Women's Team, said: "Cycling has helped the girls so much, because we help them study, and ride their bikes, and now we have so many sponsors, so they have helped us with bikes, jerseys, and shoes.

"They [Israel-Premier Tech] gave us a teacher for English, and they pay mechanics and a coach for the girls. They built the field of dreams, it will help us as a team and the community in general."

"Riding bikes is just part of culture here," she continued. "We use bikes for transport, everyday transport, to go to school, hospital, the market. Every family has one bike. It will help our children to try to ride as professionals, and this pump track is the only one in Africa, it will help us so much."

There are eight girls on the Bugesera Cycling Team at the moment, one of whom, Aline Uwera, finished on the podium at the African Continental Championships last year, the first Rwandan to do so.

Field of Dreams

(Image credit: Noa Arnon)

This week, the team were supplied with Factor bikes, as well as Israel-Premier Tech kits, and the team's Ekoï helmets and sunglasses.

Another on the team is Claudine. She explained: "Cycling changed my life very significantly, it made me more popular in the community than before. Cycling makes me feel stronger, it makes me feel more confident.

"I love sprinting. I love going fast," she said. Her family live on just $5 a month; without the Racing for Change initiative, it is unlikely she would have ever been able own her own bike, let alone race.

It is not out of the question for some of these riders to make the jump to Israel Premier Tech Roland, the Women's WorldTour team, or at least its under-23 development squad, possibly as soon as next year.

"Some of these girls are just getting started in terms of their experience," Adams said. "They have such talented athletes [in Rwanda], and growing up at altitude, and all the reasons that make East Africans good at endurance sports. They just needed bikes. You need investment, and I'm hoping this will be a model for others. 

"I'm hoping we set an example for others. I could see it happening next year, and once they're on the development team, they get experience, they make it to the WorldTour, and the rest is history."

Field of Dreams

(Image credit: Noa Arnon)

The link between Israel-Premier Tech and Rwanda is strong, not just because of cycling, but because of the two country's shared history of genocide in the 20th century. It is not 30 years since the Rwandan genocide resulted in the estimated deaths of one million people, most Tutsi, were killed by radical members of the Hutu group.

This was referenced by Adams in his speech opening the pump track: "We are Jewish people from Israel, and we have an ancient imperative that requires each of us to do something good in the world. We are here today because of our values, because of our traditions. 

"Rwanda faced a very difficult time in the last century, so did the Jewish people, we both share, unfortunately, a terrible genocide that happened to each of our peoples. I feel that we are brothers and sisters together, which is why we have come back to invest in you, to allow our children to grow up and be children. To the children of Rwanda."

Crucially, Adams stressed that this was the beginning of the process, the beginning of the team's partnership with the Community of Hope and Rwanda.

"My slogan is 'I am just getting started'," he said. "We are not going to abandon you, we are here for the long haul, this is just the first step. We will be here to accompany you. We are just getting started."

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