Tour du Rwanda has taken another step towards becoming a world-class stage race: The Union Cycliste Internationale, the world’s governing body in the sport of bicycle racing, upgraded the tour to UCI level 2.1. However, the new level was not the only milestone for this year’s Tour du Rwanda.
For the very first time nonprofessional cyclists were invited to ride along the tour and experience the same challenging climbs and rewarding views as the professional racers. GIZ sent its own team to learn about the new tourism product first-hand.
The concept itself is not new: Tour de France, for example, partners with tour operators to offer exclusive cycling experiences for amateur riders at the same stages one or two days ahead of the official race. In October 2018, the Rwanda Cycling Federation (FERWACY) and the Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC) with support of GIZ started the planning process of the tourism product Ride along Tour du Rwanda. It was decided to pilot the product at the 4th and 5th stage, which in the 2019 edition of Tour du Rwanda took place in the Kivu Belt. The GIZ team participated in the 4th stage (Rubavu – Karongi) on February 27th.
From the pick-up at the hotel at 5 am to the crossing at the finish line 6 hours later, the organisation on the day of the event was close to perfect. Given that the event took place only hours before the official race, the participants benefitted from little to no traffic since the roads were closed around 7am. This is a big plus on winding roads in a country with unpredictable traffic. The 38 participants were accompanied by three cycling coaches from ARCC, former professional riders, to motivate and assist and two minibuses carrying provisions and functioning as broom wagons. Another upside: Cheering crowds and entire school classes lining the road motivated the riders to go beyond the next incline. The fact that the participants get so close to experiencing the atmosphere of the real race makes the Ride along Tour du Rwanda so special and distinguishable from other cycling tours.
What became very clear in this first run is that good racing bikes are a necessity to having an enjoyable ride. Luckily, the quality of the rental bikes provided by ARCC was very good. Another lesson learnt is that the product itself needs to be further diversified. For passionate cyclist the motivation to participate is the challenge to complete one or even more full stages. In fact, most of this year’s participants took also part in the 5th stage the following day. For fun cyclists and active tourists shorter stages with less challenging climbs might be more suitable. Especially, if the participants want to have enough energy to visit other tourism attractions in the region the same day. In the Kivu Belt, for instance, community-based tourism could benefit from tourists drawn into the region by the tour.