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MTN-Qhubeka's Niyonshuti eager for first Grand Tour start

Former Rwandan mountain biker and Olympian Adrien Niyonshuti is at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah this week, using the competition at altitude to prepare for his first Grand Tour start at the Vuelta a España later this month.

The 28-year-old African, who represented Rwanda in the 2012 Olympic Games as the country's first-ever mountain biker, has ridden for MTN-Qhubeka since 2009.

Niyonshuti was forced to sit out most of the 2013 season due to a deep vein thrombosis that was discovered in February of that year. The treatment, which involved blood thinners, kept him out of competition for most of the season, but he returned to competition at the Tour of Rwanda at the end of that year. He raced with MTN-Qhubeka throughout 2014, but he told Cyclingnews this week that he's still looking for the form he had before the illness.

"Right now at the moment I am feeling good, much better," he told Cyclingnews after the finish of stage 4 in Heber Valley. "I'm still trying to get my performance like before I got the sickness. I'm just happy to be back riding and cycling. I love it and I'm enjoying it."

Niyonshuti is currently 67th overall heading into Friday's circuit race in downtown Salt Lake City, but he says he hopes to find his way into a breakaway at some point this week.

"It's my first time to come here, and so far everything is going well," he said. "I'm still looking for one stage to get into a breakaway, maybe [Friday] or one of the two climbing stages that suit me nicely.

"As always, we have Natnael [Berhane] who is going for GC, the Eritrean champion," he said. "We're trying everything to protect him, and hopefully we end up with a good result here."

Niyonshuti said he expects to compete at the World Championships in September as a lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, although nothing has been confirmed yet.

“I was speaking to my coach from the national team, Jonathan Boyer, he was telling me that we will do the time trial, and now for I'm doing proper training for the time trial,” he said.

As for the Olympics, Rwanda's growing cycling scene means more competition, but Niyonshuti said he believes he'll make the team.

"I'm still waiting," he said. "There are a few guys from Rwanda now I think who will make it for mountain bike and road bike, so it's very good.

"There is more competition, and there are a lot of people now who understand cycling and are more interested in Rwanda. It's very good and I'm very happy to see how it grows. There are a lot of things improving."

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Pat Malach
Pat Malach

Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.