This is it the longest short trip I have been on. The last day sneaks up on most of us. From a race standpoint – we have been in the lead wire to wire so far. This has allowed me to be closer to the action than in almost any other race. The guys have raced hard and smart. The mechanic and soigner have been great keeping everything running smoothly. One last stage and most racers are looking tired. The flurry of attacks that were going on earlier in the week have trailed off. Gabon’s entire team has been eliminated on time-cuts. Teams are running out of supplies and coming to us for help. Only the Euros and TT1 throw away our bottles – every other team gives a bottle back when they take them and most squads are actually using 2010 issue TT1 bottles. We will probably leave behind 100 more this time too. Our hope is that every team today will be tired enough that we can just ride wheels to the finish.
Today I was back in the team car for the final stage – it’s often like the co-pilot in a rally car. Keeping track of the race, looking up rider numbers, there are things to do to help the process which I like. From the beginning the race moves at a sane pace and although there was a lot of terrain change this keeps until 15 K to go when a Rwandan rider takes a flier. In the 3 years of this event no Rwandan has ever won a stage so this poor guy had a lot on his shoulders. He timed his break perfectly and got out as far as 37 seconds before the time started coming down. In the car there was a nervous silence, anything could happen; a flat, a crash, a goat on the course so as the K ticked down we kept waiting and hoping. With 1 K to go Kiel went for it. As the yellow jersey wearer he wasn’t just going to coast in. The Rwandan won but only by 50 meters over Kiel but to the untrained eye it was great for Rwanda. They won a stage and beat the yellow jersey. The streets were packed the last few K so the noise was great and the Rwandan people were thrilled. Kiel was first and Joey was second overall but on the final day a Rwandan won the KOM jersey, the stage jersey, and best overall team. It was a huge day for cycling in their country and certainly one they can build on. Kiel and Joey also won two motorcycles for their stage wins which they are donating to the Rwandan Diabetes Foundation. Alex Bowden was the one diabetic racer on the squad and he finished this year over 2 hours ahead of his finishing place last year showing continued development for him. We would have popped champagne if we could find any, instead it was large bottles of Mutzig (Budweiser of Rwanda) We thought we had brought a strong squad but the cycling gods smiled on us as well this year.
The other group that came with us rode every stage ahead of the race and did at least seven clinic visits. They had the opportunity to interact, educate, and be educated by Rwandans with diabetes. Money and resources are so limited in Rwanda that this will continue to be an uphill battle but through the Rwandan Diabetes Foundation they have targeted and enrolled 680 children with type 1 diabetes who are guaranteed access to diabetes medication and testing supplies. A few years ago these children most likely would have died from this disease and now due to a very charismatic leader of their diabetes foundation and the contacts with TT1 there is hope for them. This week we also set up diabetes stations at every finish so we could test anyone who wanted to know if they have diabetes. This part of the trip was a great success.
From my standpoint, I really wasn’t terribly useful in my opinion. We lost 2 riders from the team but there wasn’t much I could do on either. About half the people in the group had some sort of intestinal issue but having seen them all, I had the worst version of any of them. It’s good in many respects not to be needed in my role, I just feel like I’m taking up space though at times.
As I sit in the Brussels Airport at a Starbucks writing the last entry and reflecting, I feel the trip was a great success. The team reached goals on multiple levels so I hope the sponsors are very happy with the work that Phil is doing. Rwanda was a beautifully lush country that was far more developed than I had imagined. The people were fantastic – friendly and eager to show their country. They were understandably frustrated that all the outside world knows of them is the genocide and not the amazing 16 years that have followed. Would I go back, I’m not sure on that at this point, I’ll have to think on that a little more when I’m not so tired.
Murakozie (Rwandan for thank you) for reading.