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Wheels of fortune

Gasore Hategeka

“Everything is done on bike in Rwanda: taxis, transportation, everything. Before they can afford a bike, kids run along the roads turning tyres. When they’re older they’ll carry potatoes, 30 kilos at a time, on their bikes. They ride for work and they ride for pleasure. So you get all these seriously naturally gifted athletes riding ancient, welded together, heavy bikes with no gears. Gasore  was like that when he went in to try out for Team Rwanda. He was picked out by the coach, Jock Boyer, and given his first racing bike. It has transformed his life. He bought a house, got married and had a baby. It’s amazing to see just how much hope the bike can bring someone.”

“Team Rwanda’s coach Jock was the first American to ride in the Tour de France. He has dedicated his life to the team, he’s like a father to them and he and his wife have created an extraordinary training programme. Young hopefuls line up outside the camp waiting to be asked in for a fitness test to qualify to join the team. If they pass they get to live in camp, they get amazing food, they get very high status. Very few make it through, and it’s sad to see people get turned away.”

“Alongside their training, massages, yoga and eating huge amounts of eggs (meat is in short supply and protein is vital), the team members spend part of the day learning English. This is because Jock hopes to see his guys racing abroad and knows that they’ll need to speak the language to get by.”

“Gasore is a Tutsi and there are both Tutsis and Hutus in the team. The genocide of 1994 [in which as many as a million Rwandans were killed in just 100 days] still looms large in the country and proper reconciliation is still elusive. But there are no divisions at all in the team. They are incredibly tactile and close which can be quite funny. Jock told me that he booked four hotel rooms for them when they went to South Africa, but they all refused to sleep in their own rooms and wanted to share the same room, to stick together. They’re very close.”

Gasore has become a hero, a celebrity. Everyone knows him. You have all this poverty and all these kids on the side of the street living in shacks, and then Gasore and 20 other cyclists come riding through on expensive carbon frame bikes, decked out in Lycra. It draws quite a crowd.”

“Gasore and his friends are one of the most successful teams in Africa. They’ve had some sponsors and some private donations, but while the big talent is there the big money isn’t. If they had the funding, then there’s no doubt in my mind they’d be a UCI World Team and do very well. It’s all thanks to Jock, his programme and his dedication. With the right support there’s no limit to what Gasore and his team can achieve.”

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