Simon Hupperetz guiding Rwandan riders towards 2025

In two-and-a-half years, Rwanda will become the first African nation to host the UCI Road World Championships, the biggest annual event organised by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

It will be a historic event for Rwanda, for the African continent and for cycling.

With the support of the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) and its Continental Development Satellite in South Africa (WCCA), the whole African continent has been gearing up for the 2025 UCI Road World Championships for some time in the hope of seeing African riders on some of the podiums.

But what about, more specifically, the Rwandan athletes?

“We have some promising young riders currently racing in the Junior and Under 23 ranks and with better support and racing exposure, we believe that they will do much more than just participate in 2025.”

Those are the words of Simon Hupperetz, a man with a mission.

Hupperetz, 33, is Belgian, but has been based in Kigali for six years. He is a language teacher, but also a fully qualified and vastly experienced cycling coach, who holds the UCI Level 3 Coaching Diploma.

So it is no coincidence that he has been appointed Rwanda Development Project Lead in the run up to the 2025 UCI Road World Championships. In this role, he is advising guiding and supporting the Rwandan Cycling Federation (Fédération Rwandaise de Cyclisme - FERWACY) to prepare its athletes for the big event. To do this, he also works closely with the UCI WCC and WCCA, for whom he has acted as a coach educator consultant since 2013.

“Our main focus is on youth development, one of the biggest missing links in cycling in Rwanda,” observes Hupperetz, who has no shortage of experience of the sport in his country of adoption: he was co-founder and Sports Director of the first Rwandan UCI Continental Team – Benediction Continental Cycling Team -, coached mountain biker Nathan Byukusengein for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and has worked closely with the WCCA and FERWACY on multiple talent detection and development projects. It is an experience that has made him very aware of Rwandan athletes’ strengths and weaknesses.

“Their mental strength is something I have always admired,” he observes, recalling the 2016 Grand Tour of Algeria, when his national team – which he coached for a year - endured three weeks of cold, wet conditions with temperatures often dipping below 5 degrees Celsius and snow making the occasional appearance. “I never heard a rider complain, even though none of them were used to racing in the cold.

“Another of their strengths is their power to weight ration which often means they are strong climbers.”

Racing opportunities

One of Hupperetz’ priorities is to provide racing opportunities for the young Rwandan athletes in the Under 15 and Under 17 categories, with a view to having competitive Juniors in 2025. New facilities such as the Field of Dreams bike centre in Bugesera, launched by UCI ProTeam Israel – Premier Tech, will hugely contribute to the plan of offering weekly races for youth riders.

Those showing the most promise will be given opportunities to gain experience further afield.

“With the support of the WCC and WCCA our best riders will benefit from ongoing training supervision and will regularly attend training and racing camps in South Africa and Europe,” explains Hupperetz, who is also overseeing an education programme for people working in cycling’s professions, such as coaches and mechanics.

“All of them are part of the same and fragile ecosystem. When one link is missing, you cannot progress. Coaches, teachers and educators are part of the success of the entire project,” says Hupperetz who, over the years, has visited 15 African countries to administer coaching courses. They care for and shape athletes until others take over. Mechanics, soigneurs and Commissaires all have a part to play in the process and can enable riders to bloom.”

Continuing the progression

Rwandan cycling has already progressed immensely since 2006: the Tour of Rwanda moved up to a UCI 2.1 category race, the country’s first UCI Continental Teams were founded, the Africa Rising Centre, home of the national team, opened in Musanze and new clubs have been created.

“We can build on the progress already made to catch up with the top African cycling nations such as Eritrea and South Africa. It really is possible,” says Hupperetz.

The Rwanda Development Project Lead has plenty of work ahead of him in the next two-and-a-half years but is already looking forward to the historic 2025 UCI Road World Championships.

“Sport unites and creates joy and excitement for everyone. Like many other cycling enthusiasts, I dream of seeing an African rider become UCI World Champion. When you know where these young women and men come from, you can only admire their resilience. Their pathway isn’t smooth.”

And his anticipation goes beyond the sport itself… “Rwanda is a beautiful country and seeing it from the sky will be something absolutely fantastic and completely different from what cycling fans around the world have seen before.”