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Who is Rien Schuurhuis, the “Pope’s cyclist?”

Dutch racer Rien Schuurhuis will compete at the UCI Road World Championships in Australia wearing the white and yellow colours of the Vatican.

A cyclist with a papal blessing: the Vatican debuts in UCI
Instagram Valerio Agnoli

Many professional athletes cross themselves or pray before a match or a competition, but now God will be closer than ever to the world sport. Rien Schuurhuis, baptized as “the Pope’s cyclist” is set to wear the white and yellow colors of the Vatican at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, the first time a competitor for the Holy See will take part in an International Cycling Union (UCI) event.

The Vatican officially became a member of the UCI last year and Athletica Vaticana, Vatican City’s sports organization, has announced that Schuurhuis will compete in the 165.8-mile Men’s Elite Road Race on 25 September in Wollongong (Australia).

Schuurhuis a seasoned competitor

Schuurhuis, 40, was born in Groningen in the Netherlands and has previously ridden for Black Inc Cycling Team (2016) and Oliver’s Real Food (2018), competing mostly in Asian races and at the Dutch Time Trial Championships. His best general classification results have been 9th-placed finishes at the Tour of Banyuwangi Ijen (2016) and the Jelajah Malaysia (2016).

This cyclist now faces his greatest challenge to date and the Vatican has provided a stellar team around him. The Pope’s delegation is led by Valerio Agnoli, a former professional cyclist for teams including Liquigas and Astana until his retirement in 2019, where he supported team leaders like Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso.

As Agnoli stated: “We are going to Australia as ambassadors of His Holiness.” In fact, he adds, Pope Francis has personally blessed them: “During matches, a team works together and when a teammate is fighting, he will be supported. The Pope’s message is the summary of life.” The Elite Road Race route includes almost 4,000 meters of accumulated elevation gain, but Schuurhuis has an experienced team behind him.

Capture taken from Valerio Agnoli's instagram.
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Capture taken from Valerio Agnoli's instagram.

The Vatican promotes sport

Athletica Vaticana, the sports body that the Holy See decided to create in 2019, in affiliation with the Italian Athletics Federation and the Italian Olympic Committee, has been promoting sports and has participated in a few events. As well as Schuurhuis competing in Australia, The Vatican is set to make its competitive debut as guests at the 2023 Games of the Small States of Europe, together with the likes of San Marino, Malta and Andorra, having missed out in 2019 due to a lack of Olympic Committee membership and in 2021 due to the Games being moved to avoid a clash with the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.

Don Vincenzo Puccio, a Sicilian priest, earned silver for the Vatican at the Maratona di Messina, the team’s first-ever medal, and Sara Carnicelli participated as a guest athlete at the 2022 Mediterranean Games, where she finished ninth (but was officially unranked) in the half marathon event in Oran.