Rwanda: National coach Sterling Magnell on changes and development
Sterling Magnell has taken since taking up the mantle as national coach. Monterey, California leading the trio to Musanze, Rwanda at pivotal points in their lives to contribute to one of the more amazing stories within the sport this millennium.
Although Rwanda missed winning any elite gold medals at February’s African Championships in the capital city of Kigali, Areruya remains top of the individual UCI African Tour rankings. With over 1000 points, Rwanda sits second in the national rankings with 18 plus races still to be run.
Sterling Magnell career didn’t reach the heights of Boyer but the bicycle has remained a crucial building block in his life. Once Magnell hung up his wheels full time, he still races occasionally, the second chapter of his cycling career swung into gear.
I had been retired a year or two and was miserable and not sure what to do. Jock called my dad and said, ‘Ask Stirling if he wants to come over here’. I think I was like ‘no’ and my Dad said just think about it,” he recalled. “I did some research and I knew about the programme, I knew about Jock and I thought it was cool and always wanted to visit.
But moving there, I was starting to put some good stuff together in my life so moving there I was like no. It took me about two months to do it. And I decided to really do it. I sold all my stuff and got my possessions down to what I could put in my mum’s house. I decided I would be here for three years minimum and coming up to three years now.”
We didn’t have the depth of strength of the Italian cycling culture that Eritrea has but the timing of the growth post-genocide, the availability of certain people and their willingness. Jock being at the timing of his life he was at when Tom Ritchey said for him to come here. The people who suggested that Tom visit. The succession of events… but the uniqueness of Rwanda is in its federation and the government’s willingness to collaborate and to think outside the box, allowing a culture to develop. And to embrace the fact that Rwanda cannot only have a cycling culture but to embrace that and that it can be a hub.”
That hub has become the African Cycling Center in the northern city of Musanze. The centre not only catering to the local athletes but also for African cyclists who need a well-catered training base. With football and cycling the two largest sports in Rwanda, the physical centre locates the heart and symbolises the investment made into the sport.
Although there remains the dream of creating a Rwandan Continental team, it is not the overwhelming priority for now. Sterling Magnell focus is on growing the base of Rwandan cycling and continued professionalisation of the sport.
It is really complicated about how you do it. There is not enough of us to go around. There are not enough professionals to have a Continental team,” he says. “I think that could be a very real option in the future. My next endeavour is hoping to build a programme here around the economy and training professionals. Not just having athletes, absolutely coaching athletes, the best and most talented around Rwanda and Africa, really searching for that excellence.
Searching for that success for them on the international stage but also delving deep into training good directeur sportifs, soigneurs, coaches and people who understand the sport and can get experience so those people who have the capability of running a Continental team. At this stage we are at, we want to produce individuals with character and talent and the ability to represent their country and be international professionals and stars in their own right. Putting athletes onto professional teams at this point, I wouldn’t say it is our number one goal, but it is a big goal.
If there was someone qualified to be a rider agent who spoke Kinyarwanda and was an ex-professional cyclist, maybe Adrien Niyonshuti can do that once he finishes racing, that is a full-time job. We all have many jobs, we are hyphens.”
Sterling Magnell vision for the future of Rwandan cycling also includes the track. Thus far in the story, mountain biking and road racing have been the predominant disciplines. That is set to change in the near future though with an all but guaranteed velodrome to be built in the country. A track programme would only serve to accelerate the growth, development and progression of the sport as Magnell explains.
Riding a fixed gear track bike on the velodrome and doing track racing, even if it is the odd scratch or points races as a junior, is probably one of the most valuable bike handling and tactical tools to teach an athlete,” he says, confirming a velodrome was approved by Kagame last year. “You can’t make mistakes, you just can’t. You have to learn to ride a bike and think beyond the guy in front of you, you have to think. You have to widen your scope and ride with a high cadence.”
While the Musanze centre has radically changed the sport for the better, Sterling Magnell believes the velodrome will propel Rwandan cycling into a new age. The next step on the journey.
It will be a real game changer. If we don’t already have the infrastructure and programmes in place to be bringing the top African cyclists from around the continent here to train, do their craft and be educated and become better directeur sportifs, soigneurs and coaches and managers, the velodrome will just push that over the top,” he says. “It is hard to imagine just how much of a mecca it could become. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself but that is one the best ideas we could have.”