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Back 1.20.2014

Exemplifying Qhubeka's mission ‘to carry on’

Adrien Niyonshuti of Team MTN-Qhubeka exemplifies the ability of bicycles to instill hope and transform lives. The 27-year-old native of Rwanda started racing at age 16 with minimal training and a borrowed bike. In 2012, he competed in the mountain bike cross country race in the Olympics and was flag bearer for Rwanda in the opening ceremonies. His personal story was movingly told in the highly acclaimed documentary “Rising from Ashes.”

After missing last season to illness, Niyonshuti is ready to roll in to the new season with MTN-Qhubeka, which rides SRAM drivetrains with Zipp wheels. The South African-based team aims to provide opportunities for African riders to excel at the highest levels of the sport while promoting the work of Qhubeka, which is World Bicycle Relief’s program in South African. Qhubeka is an Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on,” “to progress,” “to move forward.” We caught up with Niyonshuti as he begins his season:

After being out for most of the season because of illness, you finished ninth in your first race of the season at your home-country Tour of Rwanda. What did that performance mean to you to be back racing and to give such a solid performance?
I am very happy to be back racing again. I was especially happy to be able to race in my home country with my team. I'm glad I was able to ride well and support my team mates. It was also good for my mind to know that I can still do well even being out of the sport for almost a year.

What are your cycling goals for the next season? Do you hope to race in Europe more in races like Milan-San Remo?
I am very nervous about racing in Europe, but if I am able to ride in big races it will be exciting too. All the races in Europe are hard, but I am looking forward to it.

What sort of effect have you seen Team MTN-Qhubeka have on cycling in Rwanda and across Africa? Is the sport gaining in popularity and are more young people seeing cycling as a competitive outlet?
The team is very famous and popular in Africa. All the riders in Rwanda want to ride on the team. It is nice seeing many people want to ride and race. It’s really good that African cyclists have this team to aspire to.

Tell us about your efforts with the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy. How many young cyclists do you work with? What are their goals?
The riders at my academy all want to ride on Team MTN-Qhubeka. They are riding better and better and I am happy when I see them riding well in races like Gabon. We have over 20 guys who we are supporting.

In what ways have you seen cycling empower people in Africa, either through racing or through the distribution by Qhubeka of Buffalo Bicycles for transportation?
The Qhubeka bikes make a big difference. When people don't have to walk far to go to school and do their jobs it is much easier for them. I see this makes many people happier.

What is your favorite feature of the SRAM RED components you race and train with?
The SRAM components on our race bikes work really well. I see how some of the smaller teams struggle on bikes that don't work properly and I am thankful we have such good equipment.

What is your favorite set of Zipp Firecrest wheels and why? What do you notice most about Zipp wheels?
The wheels are so fast! I like the 404 wheels because they are strong. too.

How did Nelson Mandela inspire you as an African and as an athlete?
Mr. Mandela was such a good man. He was fighting for freedom for his people, but at the same time was fighting for peace. I know I have many opportunities because of good men like him.

Follow @AD_Niyonshuti and @TeamMTNQhubeka on Twitter