Dirt, Sweat and Fever: Conquering the 1.000 hills around Rwanda

Lying in bed with a 40° C fever is anything but the ideal taper for any cycling event. Let alone when you’re prepping for Race around Rwanda, a 1,000 km self-supported bike packing race featuring a staggering 15,000 meters of elevation across eastern Africa. It’s a very delicate situation, particularly after months of excruciating training, sacrifices, logistical nightmares, and a long journey from your home in Europe.

But Ulrich Bartholmoes is not an ultra-cyclist like any other. With a background in downhill racing in his teenage years, he was forced to take a break from cycling for a decade because of his studies and then work. He started road riding again in 2013 and in 2019 he entered his first ultra long distance event, the Transpyrenees (1,000 km and 25,000 vm). Since then, he has finished 18 ultra-distance events, winning 14 of them.

Ulrich normally hammers the competition, and Race Around Rwanda was supposed to be another smash fest. Yet, this time around, he found himself in a different position. Instead of the hammer, he was the nail. After all the efforts to be ready and perform, the day before the race, he had to decide whether to even start. So, in a ballsy last-minute call, at 4:30 am, he showed up at the start line in Kigali along with 150 participants.

And it seemed his bet had paid off. After 150 km, he found himself in the lead. But then, slowly but surely, the wheels came off. A wheezing and rattling cough started to surge up from his lungs. The fine, red sand dust he had inhaled previously – and the 3,000 m of elevation he had just climbed in the cold of the night – was putting his immune system on the ropes.

Once again, Ulrich had to make a hard call. To stop or continue?


(42 seconds, full documentary has a length of 24 minutes)