The Benediction Cycling Team will be the first UCI team registered in Rwanda next season as the former club program jumps to the Continental level. Club founders Felix Sempoma and Benoit Munyakindi registered the team with the UCI on Monday, according to a release from the team.
The team's eight-rider 2019 roster will feature 2018 Rwandan cyclist of the year Patrick Byukusenge, 2015 Tour of Rwanda winner Jean Bosco Nsengimana and Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, the 2016 Rwandan national road champion and former member of the Dimension Data Continental team. The team will also include 2017 national road champion Gasore Hategeka and reigning Rwandan national champion Didier Munyaneza, along with three other U23 riders.
Over the past decade, Benediction Cycling has built a successful track record for producing some of the top cyclists in Rwanda. The team hopes moving to the next level will continue growing the sport in Rwanda while providing the much-needed professional experience for its cyclists.
"This has been a dream of mine and Benoit's for years," said Sempoma, who will direct the team with assistance from mechanic Theoneste Karasira and soigneur Innocent "Rocky" Uwamungu.
"We want to give these young men the opportunity they need to continue advancing in the sport. We know Rwandan cyclists have the talent to compete at the highest levels, and we are excited to participate throughout Africa, Europe and the United States in 2019," Sempoma said.
"We are thankful for our sponsors and for the support we've received. We also thank the Rwandan Cycling Federation, Simon Hupperetz and Jock Boyer and Kimberly Coats from Africa Rising Cycling for their assistance in launching this team. We modeled our program after Team Rwanda Cycling and learned how to run a professional team through working with Jock and all the coaches and mechanics who have given their time in Rwanda over the past decade."
The new Rwandan-registered team joins the growing number of UCI Continental teams from the African continent, according to the release, including the first Angolan registered team and three new Continental teams based in South Africa, the most in UCI history from the African continent. The Tour of Rwanda is also stepping up to 2.1 status this year after a decade of being a 2.2 race. Astana has already committed to the race and will be the first WorldTour team to compete there.
Sempoma founded Benediction Cycling in 2005 with a mission to see cyclists receive an education on and off the bike. Throughout the past decade, Sempoma and Munyakindi built a successful development program, which also includes a fully supported women's club team in Rwanda. The Benediction Cycling Program, based in Rubavu, sits on the shores of Lake Kivu in western Rwanda. Munyakindi is currently vice president of the Rwandan Cycling Federation.
The team has already received its first invitation to a UCI race, with plans to compete in the 2019 Tour of Rwanda. Additionally, the team has a tentative month-long Belgian program planned with the support of SKOL and a possible appearance at late-summer races in the US.
Benediction Cycling Team for 2019: Patrick Byukusenge, Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Gasore Hategeka, Didier Munyaneza, Eric Manizabayo, Yves Nkurunziza, Jean Claude Nzafashwanayo