The last weeks of December are a time for reflection, introspection, and a flood of Best-of and Top-10 lists across the Internet. I don’t have a top 10 list to share with you (instead I encourage you to go back and read all of the interviews on The Bicycle Story and pick YOUR 10 favorites to share with everyone you know). But, I do have one fantastic article to share with you; hands down the best piece of cycling-related writing I read this year.
Philip Gourevitch’s July 2011 New Yorker story, “Climbers” explores the history of the Rwandan national cycling team, its rising stars, and its founders to tell a smart, informative story about tragedy and redemption in Rwanda.
At over 13,000 words, Gourevitch’s complex narrative is difficult to summarize in a few lines. The stars of Team Rwanda were mostly young boys at the time of the 1994 genocide. A mix of Hutu and Tutsi, the team offers its riders both an escape from poverty and an outlet that helps them deal with the horrors of their pasts. The team’s success and the riders’ status as national figures also brings with it new found pressure and expectations from family, fans, and friends.
The head of Team Rwanda Jonathan “Jock” Boyer is a former pro-cyclist who had success as one of the first American’s to race the Tour de France and later as the winner of the 1985 Race Across America. His life fell apart in the decades following his professional cycling career as his business crumbled, his marriage ended, and he spent a year in prison for “lewd acts with a minor.” Mountain bike legend Tom Ritchey (Boyer’s childhood friend) reached out to him to help found the Rwandan cycling team, which has in-turn marked the start of Boyer’s own redemption.
If “Climbers” was just an article about the history and relative-success of Team Rwanda it would be fascinating and enjoyable. That Gourevitch uses it as a catalyst to discuss the devastating genocide and the country’s progress towards reconciliation and recovery makes it a valuable piece of long-form journalism.
Now you should take the time to go read it yourself.