At the end of September, Kiel Reijnen was still fighting for his health as he tried to be a cyclist again. His first season with Team Type 1 had suddenly stopped after seven months because of an unknown virus or bacteria, mononucleosis like, which confined him to complete rest.
Born in Bainbridge Island, Washington, and now based in Boulder, Colorado, Reijnen had started his schedule in France with GP Marseillaise, Etoile de Bessèges and Tour of Haut Var. The 19th of February, the headline of the last post on his blog summarizes the whole fight of his season: “The hardest part of being an athlete”.
Understandably, his victory in the prologue of the Tour of Rwanda (2.2) Sunday has a special savour. Reijnen won by eight seconds to Joey Rosskopf and ten to Tyler Magner, two of his team-mates.
“It wanted to pay the team back for having been patient with me this year”, the 25-year-old winner told Cyclingnews.
“I don't know what would have happened to me in another team... So it's an important victory for my return back. More importantly it's good for the message that we are all here to spread.”
Team Type 1 is involved in a campaign “to expand diabetes reach” in Rwanda. The US Pro Continental squad is not at the race with just its pro riders but a global staff of 22 people to distribute supplies for diabetics, including testing kits, for a value they estimate to $300,000.
Sunday, at the foot of Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, they invited locals for a diabetes test and explained to them how to treat this. They said they detected nineteen cases.
“The problem in a country such as Rwanda is that people sometimes don't know they are sick and can die”, Reijnen said. Not a diabetic himself, the rider decided to join the team as one of his family member and a friend's sister are affected by the disease.
Phil Southerland, Team Type 1 CEO, told Cyclingnews he hopes through this campaign to make “Rwanda a model country in Africa”, giving its diabetics a free access to medication. An agreement with the Ministery of Health is in the works.
In 2010, Team Type 1 went to Rwanda for the first time with a smaller charity campaign and a small roster. They decided to come back with more ambitions. “This year we have been to the Tour of California, Tour of Colorado, Tour of Switzerland, Paris-Tours... but Tour of Rwanda is our major goal”, Southerland said. "Here, we want to spread our message. Every time our riders win, it's like if we speak louder, and it's what happened today.”
The team now targets the overall. Particularly motivated is Reijnen, who has the engine and physical skills to succeed. It's said his power data last week was higher than ever. He's some experience too, as shown by his 2010 results in Asian races with the Jelly Belly team: he won the Tour of Thailand, was 3rd at the Tour of Qinghai Lake, 4th at the Tour of Hainan. He also went 3rd in the national road Championships, in Greenville. A good climber, Reijnen is ready to face local Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka), fourth in GC at 14 seconds and an expert of the Rwandan hills.
“The yellow jersey is our single goal in the race now and everything else is secondary”, said directeur sportif, John Seehafer.
With three riders in the first three places, Team Type 1 has several tactical options. Victory in Rwanda would be its third overall win this season, after the Tour of Turkey (won by Alexander Efimkin) and Tour de Beauce (Martijn Verschoor). First of all, it would be a significant step for their fight against diabete, across a country where about one citizen in four uses to watch the race.