In Rwanda, Boyer helps Africa towards Tour team

American ex-pat's work in Rwanda is bearing fruit, as his first rider contests Olympic mountain bike race

KIGALI, Rwanda (VN) — Jonathan Boyer is shaping African cycling from Rwanda and helping the push for something larger: a WorldTour-level team in the Tour de France.

“Give us two or three year’s time for the Tour de France,” he told VeloNews on Sunday. “We’ll be absolutely amazing.”

Since 2007, Boyer has shaped the local cycling scene. The first American to ride the Tour de France, Boyer has helped many of the top single-speed riders in Rwanda see if they could hack it at the next level. The system is working and Boyer saw his top prospect, Adrien Niyonshuti, contest the cross-country event in the London Olympics.

In South Africa, Douglas Ryder is preparing to debut the continent’s first Pro Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka. Ryder’s goal is to start the team in several top races and by 2014, or maybe even next year, see it line up in a grand tour.

Niyonshuti will help lead MTN’s charge. Boyer is feeding MTN other riders as well, first to its development team and, if they are good enough, to its professional team. Boyer, who served eight months in a California prison in 2002-2003 for sex abuse, is expanding his operations, working in Ethiopia and Eritrea to establish similar national programs.

“At some point we’ll have our own ProTour [sic] team because we’ll have too many riders [in Africa],” Boyer said. “We’ll have riders from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya maybe, and Rwanda for sure. It will be just a pure African team for going to Europe.”

Boyer wants to continue to pool his resources with Ryder. He will eventually base his team in Lucca, Italy, where MTN is setting up this winter.

“We can build two or three teams here in Africa. It’s very important that Doug and I work together, and we do,” Boyer said. “[We can share] vehicles and expenses. It’s so expensive, and neither of us will have European type of budgets. If we don’t work together, it’s not going to work. We are definitely not enemies; we all have the same vision, and we all want African cycling to excel.”

They both told VeloNews that the Africans need a true support system and that it is hard for one rider, like Daniel Teklehaymanot in Orica-GreenEdge, to go it alone. Teklehaymanot, from Eritrea, became the first black African to race in a grand tour this year at the Vuelta a España. Boyer hopes to help the first black African, if not the first African team, to the Tour de France, where he became the first American to compete, in 1981.

“Douglas’ MTN-Qhubeka team, and our eventual team, is a really specific African team,” said Boyer. “These guys have three-percent body fat, so to put them in Belgian [races] is contrary to what their physiological make up is and doesn’t develop them. It’s the kiss of death. We need them in races where they can show their true talent: the [Criterium du] Dauphiné, the Tour of Italy…”

For now, it is the Tour of Rwanda. Boyer hurried off to the podium to see Niyonshuti, who placed third and was the best African rider in the capital city on Sunday. Canada’s Remi Pelletier Roy (team Quebeor Garneau) won the 3.5-kilometer prologue.

“I’m in good shape right now. I’m near my peak and I think the rest are pretty tired [from the season],” Pelletier Roy told VeloNews. “I’ve lost weight to be here, but I know that they climb like mountain goats.”

Kigali itself spans several hills. The pavement gives way to red dirt once off the city’s main roads. The race has enjoyed UCI status since 2009 and saw Teklehaymanot win in 2010. The race continues to the west this week, towards the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the roads climb up to 2475 meters.

When his adopted home country tour is over, Boyer has trips planned to Ethiopia and Eritrea to work on Africa’s future and its first Tour team.