On its debut at the 2016 Tour of Rwanda, Canadian amateur team Lowestrates.ca was an instant success with Timothy Rugg winning the prologue in Kigali. There was a second win for the American three days later in Rusizi. The genesis of the team’s love affair with the landlocked African nation.
Twelve months on from its successful debut, however, Lowestrates.ca line out in Rwanda for the second and final time. Team manager Frederick Gates is closing the squad at the end of the season but explained to Cyclingnews he wanted a farewell in Rwanda.
« I haven’t announced it yet but Tour of Rwanda will be our final race, » Gates said. « I am closing the team after the race. Saying that I expect to bring a team to Rwanda next year but more of a selection team. As the race is still 2.2, I want to continue my relationship with the Rwandan cycling community for many years to come.
« I think by having a Canadian team and bringing a Canadian team here next year, will keep the spotlight on Rwanda and how beautiful and safe this country is. They have put together a cycling community, which is strong and passionate and has a bright future. »
At the 2017 edition of the race, the team hasn’t enjoyed the stage success of 2016 but has been a regular attendee of the podium celebrations with South African Edward Greene leading the KOM classification after stage 5. Although Gates and his team have enjoyed sporting success at the race, the attraction to Rwanda, « is mostly about the story and the adventure. »
Although Lowestrates.ca and the majority of the team sponsors don’t have a market in Rwanda, Gates explained they have benefited from the exposure with a Canadian audience enthralled by the Tour of Rwanda. The interest hasn’t been all one way with Gates taking on former Rwandan national champion Bonaventure Uwizeyimana as a guest rider earlier this year for a block of Canadian racing.
« It was part of something I wanted to offer and help Rwanda to get extra experience on the North American cycling scene, » he explained of the deal.
The relationship that Gates has established with Rwanda is also symbolic of the globalisation of the sport and importance of cycling to nations outside of its heartland in Europe.
« We also organised some big equipment donation campaign for some local clubs in Rwanda and went riding with them. It is part of our goal, not only to come to Rwanda for the race but also to contribute to Rwandan cycling, » he added.
For Gates, who balances a full-time job with his team management role, the decision to close the team was a familiar story of sponsorship income. Following the success of last year’s Tour of Rwanda, the 2017 edition of the race firmed as the perfect farewell for Gates and his riders to close the curtains on Lowestrates.ca.
« Without more budget, it is hard to hire help. It was a very fun ride with this team and the guys, as you can see by the way we race, we are very passionate, » he said. « We try to bring some show to the fans and engage the fans. We are probably the most followed team in Canada, which is because of the adventures, and stories we promote on social media.
« We will see what the future holds but for now. It was important for me to wait until after the Tour of Rwanda to close the team. I really wanted to experience the race again with this group of people and for them, it was important to have another shot at Tour of Rwanda after all the fun and good results we had last year. »
Fittingly, the 2017 Tour of Rwanda is also the final time the race will be held in its November time slot. In 2018, the race moves to August and then from 2019, it will be upgraded to 2.1 with a likely date in February or March.