Globe Riders: Africa gearing up for 2025 UCI Road World Championships in Rwanda

In the first of a series exploring cycling in different regions of the world, we focus on Africa.

A few days after the Tour de Rwanda drew to a close, Eritrean Natnael Tesfazion is still basking in the glory of his second overall win in the African stage race (after 2020). Meanwhile, Rwanda rubs its hands in glee with three riders in the top 20 (including ninth place for Eric Manizabayo) and the two best ranked riders in the best climber ranking (Moise Mugisha and Jean Bosco Nsengimana).

Good news for 2025 when the UCI Road World Championships will take place on the African continent for the first time, in the land of a thousand hills?

Definitely, according to the President of the Rwandan Cycling Federation Abdallah Murenzi, delighted by the performance of his country’s athletes in this international Class 2.1 stage race as the country prepares for 2025.

The Federation President has high hopes and ambitions for the Rwandan athletes: “We are working with the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) satellite in Paarl (South Africa) and we are working with some professional teams, and with some National Federations in Europe. Of course we have ambitions for our athletes, especially in the Junior and Women categories. We want to be on the stage!

“These UCI Road World Championships are an opportunity to raise the level of cycling in Rwanda and Africa.”

Strengthening its pool of talent

The whole African continent is grabbing that opportunity with a specially devised Agenda 2020-2025 taking it through to the UCI Worlds in Rwanda.

While African riders have become more prominent on the international racing scene in the last 10 years - most recently with Eritrean Biniam Girmay’s magnificent silver medal in the Men Under 23 road race at the 2021 UCI Road World Championships – the continent’s Agenda focuses primarily on youth categories with a view to making Junior podiums in Rwanda. A dedicated “Team Africa 2025” is working hand in hand with the African Cycling Confederation (Confédération Africaine de Cyclisme – CAC) and its President Dr Mohamed Wagih Azzam to ensure the Africans show their true colours at this historic event.

More races, more training camps, courses for coaches, mechanics and Commissaires… no stone is being left unturned in a bid to see an African on the UCI Worlds podium in 2025. Dr Azzam points to new stage races being created from this year in the East, West, North and South of the continent, not least in Tunisia and Burundi. These will be in addition to four stage races already on the UCI International Calendar: after the Tour of Rwanda, the Tour du Mali and Tour of Limpopo will take place in South Africa in May and the Tour du Faso in Burundi in November.

Before each of the planned new events, courses for Commissaires, coaches, mechanics and event organisers will be led by experts in these domains to raise the overall level of expertise in each host country.

“The talent is there and we are getting them ready with a programme of training camps and races each year between now and 2024, when there will be a long training camp in Rwanda on the circuit of the UCI World Championships,” explains Dr Azzam, who wants to see as many African nations as possible in Rwanda in 2025. He has been President of the CAC since 2005, in which time its number of affiliated National Federations has grown from 15 to 54, the totality of nations in Africa.

“We have good communication and good programmes with the UCI WCC in Switzerland (headed by Vincent Jacquet) and the UCI WCC’s South African satellite in Paarl (headed by Jean-Pierre Van Zyl). We are working in the same direction and that is very important.”

Vincent Jacquet confirms: “With the support of the UCI’s solidarity programme, the UCI WCC and its teams are already building the Africa 2025 strategy to ensure these UCI Road World Championships in Rwanda are a success for the young generation of Africans.

“We are also working with the International Olympic Committee’s solidarity programme, and have approached the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) to be sure that we can be even more effective and efficient on African soil.”

Focus on Juniors and women

The Agenda 2020 -2025 leading to the UCI Worlds in Rwanda starts from grass root levels, with concentration on training in schools, young women cyclists and talent detection to strengthen the next generation.

The creation of National Teams will be the next step to enable riders to compete at African Championships and African Games and qualify for the UCI World Championships and Olympic Games.

Jean-Pierre Van Zyl explains that the vision goes beyond training athletes. It is also to make the continent’s National Federations autonomous, encourage them to foster partnerships, apply for solidarity funding and organise events.

“Races are the most important part of development,” he explains. “They bring activity and stakeholders together: people in administration, race organisers, competitors, coaches and mechanics. Our focus is to help National Federations host a race, for example an African Cup, then our experts move to the race with pre-race training courses for the athletes and for the professions of cycling.

“These events will attract riders from neighbouring nations and leave a legacy in that country. That’s our vision.

“With this vision, the results will come after,” assures Van Zyl.

“If we are to have success in Africa, it will come from Junior categories and women. We have a big chance to be in the top five or on the podium with those categories. Africa is a gold mine of talent. The most talent in the entire world sits within Africa. It’s a question of extracting it.”