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Colorado Classic cycling race big, new chapter for Team Rwanda

When 100-plus pro cyclists line up this summer in Colorado Springs for the start of the Colorado Classic, one team of fresh faces will help bring a truly international feel to the inaugural event.

Team Rwanda Cycling, founded a decade ago by a former Tour de France rider from the U.S., will be part of the elite field, organizers announced this week. The four-day stage race will mark the team’s first foray into an American event of this magnitude, which is sanctioned by UCI and received a 2.HC classification from the sport’s governing body - only one level below that of the three grand tours.

The journey from Africa to Colorado has been long and remarkable. And it’s a success story that goes far beyond two wheels and a slab of pavement. It’s a tale of restoring love and hope in a country that was torn apart in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 were killed in the span of 100 days.

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Adrien Niyonshuti,

Team Rwanda’s first six years are chronicled in "Rising From Ashes," an award-winning film narrated by American actor Forest Whitaker. The documentary highlights Adrien Niyonshuti, who was 7 when six of his brothers were killed in the genocide. A decade later, he took up cycling. After narrowly missing out on an Olympic berth in road racing, Niyonshuti qualified for the 2012 London Games in mountain biking and has become an unofficial ambassador for the sport and his country.

"Part of our vision for the Colorado Classic and the accompanying Velorama Festival is to highlight ’the power of the bike’ to bring people together, improve health and build stronger communities," David Koff, CEO of the organization putting on the race, said in a news release. "Team Rwanda Cycling is an amazing example of how bikes can help transcend differences and transform lives."

Jock Boyer was part of the group that founded Team Rwanda 10 years ago. And he and Kimberly Coats have overseen the growth of a team that now boasts more than 35 cyclists - men and women - in all levels and disciplines of the sport.

Boyer has a long, rich history in cycling. In 1981, he became the first American to compete in the Tour de France, racing alongside teammate and five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault. Boyer’s achievements on a bike also are part of Colorado racing lore. In 1980, he won the inaugural edition of the Coors Classic, America’s first international stage race that began in 1975 as the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic.

Now, nearly four decades later, Boyer will be part of the state’s third international stage race. Only this time, he won’t be the one riding a bike.

"I feel that the Colorado Classic is more than just significant; it demonstrates a new chapter for Team Rwanda," Boyer, who coaches the cyclists, said in a news release. "Ten years ago, we came to America to race our first races and we were ’neophytes.’ Now, we are coming as legitimate competitors who have earned their place in the professional peloton."

The Colorado Classic kicks off Aug. 10 in Colorado Springs with Stage 1 of the men’s and women’s races. Stage 2 is a day later in Breckenridge, with the women’s champion being crowned. The final two stages of the men’s event are Aug. 12-13 in Denver.

Team Rwanda will be led by Jean Claude Uwizeye, who competed in the 2016 road world championships in Doha, Qatar. The team also features Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, the reigning national champion in Rwanda. Win or lose, the riders will undoubtedly leave their mark on the race. And make their country proud in the process.

"We have assembled a team of professional cyclists who now race competitively on the international stage and, in so doing, have become strong ambassadors for Rwanda," Boyer said. "They give others, both nations and people in conflict, hope."

Mutoni Jolie

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