British Rider Ethan Vernon claimed the first stage of Tour du Rwanda 2023 from City of Kigali to Rwamagana district, romping to victory in the Eastern Province town after the 1,15.6km.
The 22-year old rider who races for Soudal – Quick-Step Devo Team, sprinted to the finish line ahead of JEANNIÈRE Emilien of Total Energies and Mulubrhan Henok of Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè, who came in third and second respectively.
With a few metres to the finish line, Vernon, who became the first British rider to win a stage in Tour du Rwanda, broke out of the peloton and sprinted towards the finish line to claim the yellow jersey ahead of stage two.
Rwanda’s Jean Bosco Nsengimana won the ‘best climbers’ jersey but could not sustain an early lead along with James Fouche of Bolton Equities Black Spoke, with whom he led the race for the longest time.
Nsengimana (wearing no.12) led the break away pack alongside Dutch rider Fouché, 24 with whom he traded places several times. The team Rwanda rider maintained the lead from Kigali towards Kabuga, Masaka, but the Dutch rider managed to take over the lead at Nyagasambu, Rugende
The peloton pack trailed the race leaders for the biggest section of the Kigali-Rwamagana stage with Toby Perry (EF Education) trying to break away.
After showing a good performance in climbing hills (2points) Nsengimana displayed the ability to contend for the stage Yellow Jersey.
As the riders approached Musha, with 49.6 kilometers left to the finish line, Nsengimana left Fouché with a wide range of about half a kilometer distance.
Fouché was seen struggling to catch up with the Nsengimana at the Ntunga to stand a chance to win the stage but the Rwandan refused to give way.
After the Ntunga section (44.1km to the finish line) Fouché managed to pass Nsengimana and maintained the lead up to Rwamagana town but the Rwandan rider closed in shoulder- to-shoulder, tire- to- tire as the peloton was also closing in fast.
Upon arrival in Rwamagana town, Nsengimana and Fouché were swallowed back into the peloton which had to make five rounds (20kms) around Rwamagana town before hitting the finish line.
With 6.7km remaining to the finish Rwandan rider Eric Imanizabayo aka “Karadiyo” pulled out of the peloton but he could not keep up with the pressure, giving in to the now sprinting peloton.
At 2.9kms there was no Rwandan in the lead pack but the Moroccans showed a power game to bring down the European riders (Total Energies) who had a good peloton lead throughout the stage.
At 1.8kms the peloton remained tight and it was difficult to know who would win the race but British rider, Ethan Vernon, 20, displayed a hard knock sprint ride through a tight spaced pack to win the stage.
“The boys were very good but the stages were tight especially on the climbs and I hope to pay a favour on the upcoming stages tomorrow,” Vernon said.
Nsengimana was awarded the best hill climber (Kibagabaga and Ntunga hills) with 6 points and he admitted that pressure increased with the peloton catching up.
“The plan to win was there but the first day was hard but tomorrow we wish to win stages,”
The highest ranked Rwandan after stage one was Moise Mugisha in 21st position while Vainqueur Masengesho came in at 43 in what is appearing to be a difficult start for home riders.
The Tour du Rwanda started in 1988, and became an international cycling event from 2009, where it was classified as 2.2 in 2018 by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
The tour has since attracted 700 riders and this year it pooled 94 riders from 19 teams (67 of them new to the race) , from 28 countries.
The plan was 20 teams for this year’s edition however one team, Algeria, pulled out at the last minute.
For the first time in 15 years, the UCI rated Tour du Rwanda hosted riders from Asian countries including Chinese, Japanese, Latvians and Indonesia.
Stage two will start from Kigali and end in Gisagara district, Southern Province.