SILVER CITY - Team Rwanda isn''t leading the field of 13 professional cycling teams competing in the Ben D. Altamirano 21st Annual Tour of the Gila.
In fact, the five Rwandan cyclists were in last place as a team after the first two stages of the race.
But as part of the first national team from the Republic of Rwanda, they are heroes nonetheless, and doing just fine for their first professional cycling race.
"They''re doing pretty good," said the team''s coach, Jock Boyer, following the Inner Loop Road Race on Friday. "They don''t complain even though it''s super hard, and they''re dealing with a hundred different things right now, whether it''s food, or the altitude or the terrain."
Boyer said the team members were having a good time with the presence of running water and electricity, and they are enjoying every meal like it is going to be their last.
Andrew Johnston, a film maker from Austin, Texas, is following the team on their journey throughout the U.S.
Johnston is producing a documentary about the team members, one of whom lost six brothers in a massive genocide that occurred during the country''s civil war in 1994. Two other members of the team also lost family in the genocide.
Johnston is also involved with Project Rwanda, which is a non-profit organization that seeks to use bicycles as a tool for economic development in the African country. Team Rwanda is part of Project Rwanda.
He said the cyclists were chosen because of their potential to compete on a professional level, as well as their character.
When Project Rwanda founder Tom Ritchey decided to help put a team together, it was about more than just sport, he said.
"It''s not just based on cycling, it''s mostly based on promoting hope and providing their country with some heroes," Johnston said while waiting for members of the team to cross the finish line Friday.
Johnston said he came across some articles about the project and the team and decided it was a good cause. He said the end goal for the team at this point is to compete in the 2008 Olympics. They are scheduled to compete in the African Games this summer for a spot in the Olympics.
He said Team Rwanda will be traveling around the U.S. after the Tour of the Gila is over. They will start with a trip to Northern California, where they may stake out a home base of sorts where they can stay in between cycling events.
Boyer, who was the first American to compete in the Tour de France, is also competing in the Tour of the Gila and was No. 5 in the 40-and-over category after the first two stages of the race. He also is coaching several individual cyclists during the tour.
"The riders are the real story; my career has passed," Boyer said. "These guys never complain even though it''s brutally hard. They are very strong individuals as far as character."
Boyer said the team has been doing well in the opening days of the tour, especially considering that it is their first pro 1 race. He said they have figured out the feed zones, where volunteers hand bottles of water and other supplies to cyclists as they speed by.
He said the Grant County community has shown a great deal of support for the Rwandans. One local tour volunteer even plans to hold a barbecue for the team members Saturday night, with a menu of items that they like to eat, he said.
"We''ve gotten an incredible response from the community and some of the pros have come up to me and said (members of Team Rwanda) are safe on the road and a pleasure to ride with," he said.
The members of Team Rwanda will return to their home country on June 18 before competing in the Tour of Rwanda. For more information about the project or the team, visit www.projectrwanda.org.