Pro racer Adrien Niyonshuti, born in the Eastern Province, Rwanda, will be participating in this year's Absa Cape Epic as a member of team MTN Garmin Qhubeka. The event, which takes place from March 27 to April 3 is drawing 1,200 cyclists from around the globe over 707km. It will be his third time in the South African mountain bike stage race.
Niyonshuti, 24, began amateur cycling at the age of 16. Although he survived the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, six of his brothers were killed. He came to the attention of a former professional cyclist, Jonathan Boyer. As the first American cyclist to compete in the Tour de France, Boyer was working in Rwanda on a project to import cargo bicycles. Boyer also assumed the role of coach for the Rwandan national cycling team, and recruited Niyonshuti to race.
Niyonshuti had good initial results in local races such as the Tour of Rwanda, in which he finished in the top 10 five years in a row and won in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, Niyonshuti attended the Africa Continental Centre Training Camp in South Africa, where he was offered a contract by Douglas Ryder. He started his first UCI European road race in August 2009 with his participation in the 2009 Tour of Ireland, becoming the first Rwandan cyclist to ride in European professional races.
Niyonshuti enjoys stage racing. "I also particularly enjoy the Cape Epic and have been given the opportunity to participate thanks to my sponsors. My partner is well-known cyclist and previous winner Mannie Heymans. I'm very happy to race with him as he has so much experience and I can learn from him. I have a lot of confidence in him."
Heymans won the inaugural Cape Epic with then partner Karl Platt, the only rider to have ever won the race four times. Heymans won the TransAlp mountain bike race in both 1998 and 2004, the African Mountain Bike Championships in 1999, 2001 and 2003, participated in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and was 10-time Namibian Road Champion.
To the question of whether they stand a chance to win a stage, Niyonshuti is positive. "I think there's a good chance to win some stages and obviously I would love for us to be on the podium, but with this race you can never tell. So for now I just focus on the stage wins."
He has been training with teammates Paul Cordes and Charles Keey. "They're also participating in the Cape Epic, so it's been really good. I've done a few rides with Mannie but we know each other's riding styles from racing the MTN Marathon Series."
"Most of my training gets done in Pretoria, where I'm based, but we do a lot of training camps in places like Sabie."
Every stage is hard for Niyonshuti. "No matter if it's the first or last, you give your everything every day and feel very relieved and happy when you get to the finish line on the last day. My fondest memory of the race was when I completed the first Cape Epic. It was the same feeling as when I completed the Tour du Rwanda."
It has taken Niyonshuti a lot of hard work and commitment to get to where he is. "I think I can say to anyone wanting to become a professional athlete that they must always try their best and never give up on their dreams."
In his free time, he likes spending time with his family in Rwanda, reading history books and spending time with friends. "This year I want to be as strong as I can be and achieve better results in every race I participate in."
Offering some words of wisdom, he said, "If you train hard your race will be easy, if you train easy your race will be hard!"
Niyonshuti is featured in the April issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.