We collected Beyond team riders Innocent Niyereba and Violette Neza from Paris airport for the long drive down to Girona. Sadly, a third, Jean, missed the trip as his visa wasn’t issued in time. Initially they were both quiet, tired from an already long day and nervous about their first European trip… but once we stopped to find a room for the night, Violette opened up to me about her life, love of cycling and dreams for the future.
Her passion for cycling begun at 14 where she started training at her high school. By 18 she was already part of the national team. She made the difficult decision to drop out of her team when she was told she had to choose between racing and her education. I could tell this was an extremely driven and intelligent young woman, and so to have turned down an opportunity to do something she loves full-time must have been a tough decision. From this point on, she had to split her time between riding and working to fund her university education. She is studying travel and tourism, and works multiple jobs including sharing her passion as a cycle tour guide. She’s a strong rider, too. Despite her limited time to train, she won the Race around Rwanda and Gorilla Gravel events. She is the only female rider in the Rwanda Beyond team and although she is hugely focussed and highly competitive, she is also passionate about sharing her love of cycling, especially with other women. At home she runs the Neza Empowering Women Cycling Hub, where she coaches a team of ten young girls, and is also part of the Fanta Citron Squad which has a total of 48 women, both Rwandan and international, who meet to ride together. This trip to Girona for The Traka will be her first competitive event in Europe. For her, coming to Europe is an opportunity to push herself against a strong international field of riders, racing at a level higher than she ever has before.
It’s not just Violette who uses her talents to help others. Innocent grew up in a cycling family, and knew he was destined to become a cyclist. Like Violette. he joined the Rwandan national team when he was young, but now spends his time training with the Beyond team and coaching the Bugesera women's team, whilst also training to become a mechanic.