Rwandan and South Africa-based UCI Continental Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider Joseph Areruya has expressed delight after winning the ninth edition of the Tour du Rwanda 2017 on Sunday following outstanding performances in the last eight days of one of the most challenging cycling races in Africa.
Areruya, claimed his first Tour de Rwanda title with 40 points in a time of 20:21.29 seconds covering a total distance of 819km.
Speaking to media on Sunday, Areruya said, “I feel so privileged to win this race. It was the most difficult cycling competition I have ever competed for. I am so excited to be going for this kind of record,”
“I owe this kind of performance to the extensive training and experience gained with my team in Europe for the past one year. It’s not over now, I will have to work hard going into next year’s edition which will have long distances to ensure that I defend this title,” said the 21-year old rider.
Triumph of legs and head
Speaking to Cyclingnews, Areruya’s win was a triumph of his legs and head. Having ridden away from the peloton on stage 1 to Huye, taking a convincing win and lead in the overall standings, stage 2 was riddled with “mistakes” according to sports director Andrew Smith.
“All those mistakes that were made on that second stage, we had a really stern talk to the guys and a good meeting that night and the next day it brought the guys back together,” said Smith of the stage into Rubavu where Areruya was pushed out of the yellow jersey by Illuminate’s Simon Pellaud by a full minute.
Bouncing back from the disappointment, Areruya took his second stage of the race a day later into Musanze in a bunch sprint finish. He then reclaimed yellow after the stage 4 finish in Nyamata when he and teammate Metkel Eyob detonated the peloton.
Sixth in the Rwamagana bunch sprint, stage 6 from Kayonza to Kigali followed and was on paper Areruya’s toughest challenge in his bid for overall victory.
Starting in his hometown of Kayonza, Areruya started the stage wanting to “show my neighbours how strong I am” and duly proved worthy of his nickname, Kimasa, ‘Bull’, as he and Eyob again rode away from the peloton, this time on the Wall of Kigali’ for a one-two finish at the Stade Regional – all but securing the overall win that was confirmed day later, 10 kilometers east across the capital.
“It was very hard this tour. The second stage I lost the yellow jersey. When I lost the yellow jersey I started to think how can I win? We had a meeting with the team and we discussed how we can get the yellow jersey back. It was difficult but we believed with our team and we worked together for the win,” said Areruya, now the second youngest overall winner of the race.
“In 2015, I was second and 2016 I was fourth and this year I am first. I am very happy and now I have to train hard and see next year how I can race. I hope to do something nice.”
Having made history earlier in the season, with his Baby Giro stage win the first UCI Europe victory for a Rwandan, the tour win caps off a successful first year at Continental level with Dimension Data for Qhubeka for Areruya.
Areruya made his Tour du Rwanda debut in 2015, as a teenage rider for Team Rwanda, a year in which Jean Bosco Nsengimana became the second Rwandan to win the race since it became a UCI-Africa Tour, category 2.2 road race in 2009. Ndayisenga had won it the previous year.
Eritrean national Eyob Metkel for the South African team Dimension Data Qhubeka emerged in second, garnering 30 points from 20:28.00.
The South African team dominated the overall race, winning three of the eight stages and scooped the best team title.
Eyob Metkel and Joseph Areruya had an impressive collaboration that lasted throughout the race.
Tour de Rwanda 2016 winner Valens Ndayisenga managed to win the final stage held in Kigali City on Sunday.
This year’s edition attracted 15 teams including from five National teams, five UCI Continental teams and five clubs. The national teams were Mauritius, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Algeria and hosts Rwanda.
The UCI Continental teams were: Dimension Data for Qhubeka (South-Africa), Tirol Cycling Team (Austria), Team Illuminate (USA), Bike Aid (Germany), and Dukla Banska Bystrica (Slovakia).
Regional or Club teams were; Club Benediction de Rubavu (Rwanda), Club Les Amis Sportifs de Rwamagana (Rwanda), Team Lowestrates.com (Canada), Team Haute-Savoie/Auvergne Rhône-Alpes (France) and Team Kenya Riders Safaricom (Kenya).
The challenge now for Areruya and his team is to record the first back-to-back overall wins in race history next August before the 2019 elevation to UCI 2.1 status.