Participating in a world cycling championship, even as a child, Nothing Schuurhuis would have “never dared to dream of it”. Sunday, September 25, the Australian globetrotter – he also has a Dutch passport – will however start with a shirt for the less original: that of the Vatican. “I feel blessed” he told AFP.
This is the first time that the Vatican has entered a rider in the Worlds after becoming an official member last year of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the first federation of an Olympic sport to open its doors to it. It remained to find a minimum competitive representative, a not easy task for this micro-state of less than 1,000 inhabitants.
“In sport, everyone is equal”
To be eligible, you must be yourself or a member of your direct family (parent, child), citizen or employee of the Vatican. Rien Schuurhuis, 40, is neither a priest, museum worker or Swiss Guard, but his wife, Chiara Porro, has been appointed Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See in 2020.
“That’s how I was able to join Athletica Vaticana which is basically an initiative of Pope Francisexplains the native of Groningen. The pope believes that sport is a good way to transmit values of inclusion and fraternity. In sport, everyone is equal and everyone shares the same goal. This message speaks to me. And here I am at the world championships, it’s incredible. »
The pope’s message
For this former semi-professional rider in continental teams, the third division of cycling, it is the culmination of an astonishing journey that has taken him to the four corners of the globe, always with the bike in hand.
“With my wife, we traveled quite a bit, we lived in Australia, India, New Caledonia. Cycling for me has always been, beyond pure competition, a way to blend in with the local population, to make friends of all ages and all religions”, underlines this believer, father of two children.
In 2019, the sovereign pontiff praised cycling, a sport that “highlights certain virtues such as endurance to fatigue (on long and difficult climbs), courage (to attempt a breakaway or tackle a sprint), integrity in respecting the rules, altruism and a sense of teamwork”recalls Athletica Vaticana, which is also an official member of the International Padel and Taekwondo Federation, and is on the way to joining the fold of athletics.
“This message resonates with my own experience,” emphasizes Rien Schuurhuis, who aims to apply it wherever he has gone, such as in New Caledonia, where he learned the tricks of the trade to young local runners whom he has also supported financially. “Even though we didn’t speak the same language, cycling brought us together. It’s the virtue of sport.” he said.
The escape, “ultimate dream”
If he has always been involved in cycling – “I probably learned to ride a bike before I even learned to walk” – he would not have “never dared to dream of participating one day” at a world championship “far too ambitious a goal”. “When I was a kid, I hoped one day to be part of a team on the continental circuit, no more. So finding myself here, I still have a little trouble believing it, I’m only going to realize once I’m on the starting line. »
The ambitions of the papal envoy, accompanied to Wollongong by former pro Valerio Agnoli, ex-teammate of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, will be modest on Sunday. “The ultimate dream would be to take the first breakaway, but it will be very hard. Winning is very impossible (laughs), even finishing the race is unlikely, the course is so tough,” he slips.
The main thing is anyway elsewhere for the Australian, who participates on the sidelines of the Worlds in several charitable actions, like Friday, September 23 with the Catholic organization Caritas. “I feel blessed to be here to race these world championships, so for me it’s natural to get involved and try to help others in return. »