Best of Memories: Colin Clews

Race organiser (CiCLE Classic) and UCI Commissaire, Colin Clews reveals his best memories in the sport of cycling and surprisingly, it’s the Tour of Rwanda in 2009. Great read!

Best of Memories: Colin Clews

Colin writes … After thinking a lot, one of my best memories was being appointed as the UCI Commissaire President to the first ever International Tour of Rwanda in 2009.

Never has a race been so inspiring and yet humbling all in one go, and all down to the work and commitment of one man, ‘Jock’ Boyer, the first US rider to complete the Tour de France. After his career ended, he went to Rwanda on a mission to seek reconciliation of that nation through cycling after the genocide of the early 1990’s which ravaged that country and left millions dead.

In 2009, no one knew what racing there would be like and with a minimal field size of 42 riders, it was a voyage into the unknown for me as a race official. It was though ever so satisfying and rewarding in helping create a race that has grown from strength to strength and is now internationally recognised as a leader in the African continent within our sport.

Whilst open only to so called ‘ELITE’ age riders, and with the true ages of many born in the early ‘90’s unknown due to their families and birth records destroyed in the genocide, the motto was if they are big enough, then they are old enough!

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To this day, I am pretty sure that we had several 16 year olds riding who nevertheless acquitted themselves well over a six day course which seemed to cover all of the 1000 hills that Rwanda is famous for. As for spectators, the power of local radio alone brought to the roadside each day literally millions. Even in the remotest areas, crowds four and five deep! All the population wanting to see the ‘action’.

Photos of the crowds sent by me to the UCI were met with disbelief and their thanks for ‘pictures of the crowds in the towns’. But these were not pictures of the towns; these images were from the deepest countryside! A true lesson in how to motivate a nation that we can all learn from.

The race had so many memories, there are too many memories to recall here but one unforgettable memory was ‘Charlie’, a rider from the Burundi national team. His licence d.o.b said 29 years of age, yet his look and physical appearance suggested he was older than me! I was then 59!

His BSA frame was equipped with all the most up to date equipment, if, you lived in the 1950’s. Even then, most British clubmen would have despatched it to their winter hack bikes rather than race on it!

Each day he would finish the stage around 40 minutes to one hour plus behind the next last rider, to the most tumultuous applause from the massive finish line crowd. (Note, although way outside the daily official ‘time limit’, had we suggested he be eliminated, there would probably have been a National uprising!

Unlike most races anywhere else, the crowds were still there until what little infrastructure existed, was taken away some two hours later.

The PA system, take note Carl Lawrenson! 

So forget the Tour de France, Rwanda then was ‘real scruff of the neck’ racing. It was fantastic to be part of it, and truly unforgettable. My admiration for what ‘Jock’ Boyer has achieved remains undiminished, and I cannot understand why he has not received the acknowledgement that he rightly deserves through out the whole cycling World.

He has also enabled me to boast that I know at least one race whose roads in places are worse than those used on the CiCLE Classic!!

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