We rolled out of our hotel to the start of Stage 1 of the 2011 Tour of Rwanda in high spirits. Yesterday, we swept the podium in the prologue and made our presence well known at the race. After signing in, we headed to the team car to get bottles and other supplies that were needed for the upcoming stages and a crowd of children had amassed. At most other races, that would be a very cool scenario but in Rwanda it is a bit different. The kids weren’t crowding our car because they were big Team Type 1 fans. They were there because they thought that we had extra supplies, like food and water to give them.
Seeing their longing faces is an incredibly disheartening sight. Before the start of the race there is really no way to give them anything because we don’t know what we will need, and the way the children beg for our excess supplies is as disheartening as the looks on their faces. Many of the kids ask for chocolate, but instead of standing in a group and yelling out for it, they will walk up to you, get very close and almost whisper/whimper “chocolate? Please, chocolate?”
If we end up conceding and pass out a gel or two, it will be licked completely clean and shared between a number of kids. Before the stage today a gel was given out and the first kid took a bite, passed it on and that kept going until it was gone by our standards, but the children didn’t think so. A child on the other side of the tent was convinced he could get more out of it so his buddy threw it across to him. It landed about 5ft shy of him and rolled through the incredibly dirty parking lot. As much as that would make someone back home cringe, it didn’t even faze this little boy. He picked it up, squeezed a little more gel out of it and happily ate it. With such a small gesture, the team probably gave these boys the highlight of their week. Unfortunately, there are only so many extra gels and bottles to go around…
As the race started, though, we had to forget about all the poverty and faces of the children and focus on getting our racing. It was a two-stage day (stage 1 in the morning and stage 2 in the afternoon). The first stage was less than 50km long and it was fast and full of attacks. The team did a great job of covering moves and in the final stretch; Kiel was led out to his second victory in two days. Results like that definitely boost morale, which proved to be very important for the second stage of the day.
Stage 2 was just over 85km and had two climbs to get over. Again we worked fantastically as a team, being represented in every move that went up the road and controlling the field when it was necessary. Its funny how having the leaders jersey gives you that much more motivation to work harder than you thought you could. With roughly 30km to go it became apparent that we needed to control the attacks that were being continuously launched so Aleksei and I went to the front and set a steady tempo. We held control of the group for most of the last 25km but when we hit the small climb leading into town (approximately 7km from the finish) the attacks started up again and we called it a day. Our job was done.
We just cruised in to the finish while Will, Ty and Joey kept Kiel protected and helped him get set up for the final climb that top out at the finish line. All the work by everyone paid off in the end. Kiel won his third stage in a row! Team Type 1 ended the day with a time trial victory, a sprint victory, and a victory on a climb! This is the first time I have had to ride to defend a yellow jersey and I couldn’t be more stoked to do it! Morale is high and we are all ready to rock tomorrow.
Everyone involved with Team Type 1 in Rwanda is being incredibly supportive, especially the group of riders that are riding the stages before the race comes through. They are leaving a couple hours before the start of the race, cheering us on at the finish AND doing diabetes education in the waiting periods. This organization is working like a well-oiled machine. We are winning the race, have a number of people riding the stages early in the morning, and we are changing the way healthcare and diabetes management are being handled. I could not be prouder to be a part of this team right now!