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Niyonshuti aims to inspire Rwanda’s next generation

Rwanda's Adrien Niyonshuti hopes his achievements on the international stage draw more young people from his home country to cycling

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) — Adrien Niyonshuti is on a mission in Rio, but his aim is far bigger than any dreams of personal glory.

Niyonshuti wants to transform cycling in his home country, Rwanda.

Four years ago in London he was Rwanda’s flag bearer and became the nation’s first-ever competitor in mountain biking.

Since then he has concentrated on road cycling. For most of the year he rides with Dimension Data. Saturday, he will take part in the Olympic road race, wearing the colors of his home country alongside some of the world’s best.

“I’m in Brazil, it’s amazing. I’m very happy and looking forward to tomorrow,” he told AFP on Friday.

“I hope everything will be alright.”

Niyonshuti, now 29, started cycling when he was 15 and immediately displayed ability, finishing third in his first race.

He went on to take part in the Tour of Rwanda and from there a professional career in Europe beckoned — he now lives and trains in Italy.

Having been his country’s first Olympic participant in mountain biking and now road racing, he says he still has more goals to achieve before calling time on his career.

“My ambition is I want to ride the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España hopefully this year,” he said.

But that is also to be able to motivate other cyclists in Rwanda to follow his path.

“Young cyclists coming out of Rwanda are inspired by what I’m doing.

“Some come from my academy, they have dreams and ambition for the future.”

After the London Games, Niyonshuti set up his own academy for young riders in his homeland to get more of them into the sport.

He also rides for a pro team in Dimension Data whose aim is to get 5,000 children in Africa onto bicycles.

“In the academy we help kids to get on a bike. We pay their school fees and in the holiday time from school we teach them to ride a bike, how to look after a bike, technical skills on the bike such as descending,” said Niyonshuti.

“Most young cyclists in Rwanda never have that chance which is why I opened my foundation.”

Niyonshuti’s uncle and brothers first got him interested in cycling and he says they are his inspiration.

He may be enjoying the high life in Europe as a professional cyclist, but his homeland remains close to his heart, and in his long term plans.

“When I finish my career, I can go back to Rwanda and help Rwandan kids and Rwandan people to know more about cycling,” he said.