A 40-year-old representing Vatican City at the World Championship - This is Rien Schuurhuis' story

I think it's fair to say that Rien Schuurhuis won't be going into this Sunday's World Championship road race as anyone's favourite for the rainbow jersey. For him however, just being in Wollongong and representing the Papal state is an achievement.

So just how did this 40-year-old, born in Groningen come to have the nickname "the Pope's cyclist"? Having just 2 seasons at continental level under his belt in 2016 and 2018 at Laos' Black Inc CT and Australia's Oliver's Real Food respectively, Perhaps the most notable result of Schuurhuis' career is a lowly 40th placed finish at the Netherlands National Time Trial Championship in 2021.

When Schuurhuis' wife got a job at the Australian embassy in the Vatican City in 2020, the 40-year-old began to involve himself with Athletica Vaticana, the nations sports association. “When we moved to Rome in 2020 I was immediately drawn to the values ​​and community spirit of Athletica Vaticana,” Schurhuis said. “It is an incredible honor for me to represent Vatican City at the World Cup in Australia, my second home. It took a lot of effort to get here and I'm looking forward to putting that team spirit into practice during Sunday's race."

Just last year the Vatican City became the 200th country to join the UCI. With this being their first ride on the World Championship stage Schuurhuis is understandably full of excitement at being the first to represent them, "We at Athletica Vaticana look forward to bringing these values ​​to the UCI World Championships and encouraging all athletes to be ambassadors for sport as a means of inclusion and brotherhood. Pope Francis' focus on sport as a means of encounter goes very deeply," he said. "The language of sports is truly universal. Cycling – and sport in general – has been great for me to integrate myself into communities around the world."

Due to the nature of his wife's work, Schuurhuis is a well travelled man. No matter where in the world he might find himself however, he'd always be on his bike. "The sport transcends age, language and beliefs. The oldest of my cycling friends could be the grandfather of my youngest cycling friend." he says. "These cycling friendships have helped me immerse myself in the places I've lived and visited. They have helped me to understand different cultures and grow as a person. Cycling has taught me to be the best version of myself and I would like to convey that.”

With an Australian wife, the trip to Wollongong marks something of a home coming for Schuurhuis “Australia, now my second home, has taught me how sport can unite. Half of the Australian population is born or has a parent who was born abroad, with an incredible mix of cultures and languages. Sport creates connections that transcend these differences."

Pope Francis himself even released a statement comparing the similarities between the Catholic faith and the sport of cycling, "During a race, the whole team has to work together. If any of them are having a hard time, it is his or her teammates who help or keep them company. Also in life it is necessary to act in a spirit of selflessness, generosity and community, to help those who have fallen behind, so that together you can achieve a certain goal.”

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Cycling World Championships

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