Even when you’re driving Alpe d’Huez, it’s steep – a brutal opening ramp, 21 switchbacks, and the July sun beating down on your back. Now imagine doing that with a single-speed bike that weighs 18 kilograms.
That’s how Rwandan cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti spent his Thursday morning, crossing the line a few hours before the Tour de France peloton.
Niyonshuti’s ride was uncomfortable, but he’s overcome much more in his life. After he survived the horrors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide – six of his brothers were not so fortunate – Niyonshuti discovered cycling at the age of 16.
By 2009, his talent had attracted the attention of the MTN Cycling team, with which Niyonshuti became the first Rwandan professional cyclist. In 2012, he was the flagbearer for Rwanda at the London Olympics, riding in the mountain bike event, and returned to the Olympics four years later in Rio, this time on the road. After retiring at the end of the 2017 season, Niyonshuti has transitioned gracefully into a career as an ambassador for cycling in Africa, founding the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy in his hometown of Rwamagana and establishing the Continental level Skol Adrien Cycling Academy team.
He never achieved his dream of riding at the Tour de France, though, so today was an emotional one. On the steep slopes of Alpe d’Huez, thronged with fans at each of the iconic hairpins, Niyonshuti slowly ground his way upward.
“Some people were wondering who this guy was, where I came from,” Niyonshuti told me at […]