Book Review: 'Land Of Second Chances' (Tim Lewis)
Rwanda is a country with one of the most interesting, most graphic and most brutal modern histories of the current day. A country polarised and torn apart by a civil genocide in 1994, it has resurrected itself as one of the most modern, integrated and successful sub-Saharan countries, in an incredible feat of recovery. Intertwined and in parallel with its population and economy's recovery and reshaping, has been the birth and development of Rwandan cycling at a professional level. Tim Lewis tells this fascinating and emotional story in the fittingly named 'Land Of Second Chances'.
The book's principal hero is a young Rwandan named Adrien Niyonshuti, he lost his family in the 1994 genocide, when he was just seven years old. From loss and poverty, Adrien turns his life around, cycling becomes his route out of the cruel world that he was thrown into. In 2012, Adrien took part and finished in the London Olympic mountain biking event, becoming the first Rwandan to ever compete in the Olympics.
'Land Of Second Chances' is not just a solo account of life changing success though. As well as his Rwandan team mates, who suffered equal horrors in the genocide, Adrien is also accompanied by westerners that have made Rwanda a place to realise their new chance in life. Jock Boyer, their dedicated American coach, takes on the seemingly impossible task of training and nurturing the Rwandan cycling team, as he tries to escape and make amends from past mistakes in his own life. Equally, Tom Ritchey, founder of the multi million dollar Ritchey Components brand, sees Rwanda as a chance to reshape his life, which had suddenly gone off-track in a personal crisis.
'Land Of Second Chances' is all about reshaping and growing new and better lives in the tiny African country. Bicycles are of course at the heart of this, but it is the tales and context that surround the bicycles that make this account an exceptional one. Tim Lewis tells of the challenges faced, the incredible strength of the people and the innate ability of Rwandans to forgive, and to make the most of now.
Africans are not a common sight in the Tour de France, though we are beginning to see the occasional appearances and demonstrations of greatness. With team MTN-Qhubeka breaking onto the scene with growing strength though, it is fascinating and captivating to learn where these African cyclists have come from. Almost without fail they are all from far different and more difficult backgrounds than your average European pro.
'Land Of Second Chances' gives a detailed and eye opening account of not just Rwanda's rise in professional cycling, but also that of many other African teams and individuals. Africa is becoming an interesting and potentially great power in pro cycling, and a source of riders that are from an incredibly different context than most current Grand Tour riders. This book tells without doubt one of the most interesting and inspirational biographies of a cyclist that I have read to date.