Adrien Niyonshuti has been to two Olympic Games but is yet to ride a three-week Grand Tour. In 2017, the Dimension Data rider is aiming to become the first Rwandan to start and finish the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France or Vuelta a España. A professional since 2009 when the team was known as MTN, the 30-year-old has recovered from stomach surgery in the off-season and is building for his biggest road season to date.
In 2015, Niyonshuti was hopeful of racing the Vuelta a España but ultimately missed out. Two years on, the multiple national champion is looking to achieve his ambition this season as he explained to Cyclingnews.
"It is one of my dreams, to be honest. I am not sure [which one] because the team is also trying to get points, so I am trying my best to be the first Rwandan to race in a grand tour. I hope I will achieve this goal," Niyonshuti recently told Cyclingnews and Eurosport.
Niyonshuti made history in 2012 when he became the first Rwandan cyclist to race the Olympic Games, competing in the mountain bike. He was also chosen as the flag-bearer for the opening ceremony in London. Last year, Niyonshuti made a second appearance at the Olympic Games, honoured again as the flag bearer. However, unlike London, he competed on the road to again write history for Rwandan cycling.
The Olympic Games have whetted Niyonshuti's appetite for a Grand Tour start as he dreams of emulating fellow African cyclists Natnael Berhane, Merhawi Kudus, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Songezo Jim. A Grand Tour start would be a crowning achievement for Niyonshuti, who has continued to overcome disadvantages.
However, just as important to Niyonshuti is creating a pathway for young Rwandan's to follow their dreams just as he done.
"Racing in Rwanda and Africa is not easy to get the sponsorship or get teams interesting in stepping up. It’s step by step that they are coming," he said of the pathway for Rwandan cyclists into the pro peloton.
Riders following in Niyonshuti's footsteps and rising through the ranks include the likes of Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Joseph Areruya, Samuel Mugisha, and Tour of Rwanda winners Jean Bosco Nsengimana, and Valens Ndayisenga. However, Niyonshuti remains the sole Rwandan riding at WorldTour level.
"In 2012, I opened my own academy, and it has been very good as every year there are like four or five guys selected for the national team to travel the world and do races in Africa and Europe," he said of the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy. "It has been amazing, but we also want more people to come down and help Africa show our champions like Mekseb [Debesay], like Merhawi Kudus, Daniel Teklehaimanot in the Tour de France and Natnael Berhane ... In Africa, we have good cyclists, but we need more involvement and improvement."
Niyonshuti explained that his role with the academy currently revolves around nutrition education and sourcing equipment for the riders. On-bike exploits also inspire the riders, with Niyonshuti describing the emotion of flying the Rwandan flag as national champion at the top tier of the sport.
"It is so amazing to have the Rwandan flag on my kit when I am racing in the WorldTour races. Most people realise that flag is from Rwanda and try to learn more about Rwandan cycling," he said.
It's something he'll hope to do this year at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France or Vuelta a España, continuing to make history for Rwanda.
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