Start Time: 9am
Women: Muhanga – Huye (81km)
Junior Men: Muhanga – Huye + 2 laps in Huye town (92km)
U23 & Elite Men: Kigali – Huye + 6 laps in Huye town (158km)
All eyes will be on Africa’s top Joseph Areruya when the 4th Rwanda Cycling Cup kicks-off on Saturday with opening race of the eleven-race series.
The opening race is dubbed ‘Memorial Lambert Byemayire.’
Rubavu-based Club Benediction’s Patrick Byukusenge is Rwanda Cycling Cup defending champion, while his teammate, Jean Bosco Nsengimana won last year’s the ‘Memorial Lambert Byemayire’ race.
The one-day race was added to the Rwanda Cycling Cup calendar last year in honour of former Rwanda Cycling Federation vice president Lambert Byemayire, who passed away two years ago.
Memorial Lambert Byemayire is the first on a line-up of an eleven-race series that make up the 2018 local cycling championship.
The 2015 Tour du Rwanda champion, Nsengimana, claimed the inaugural race in April last year, from Kigali to Huye, ahead of Club Benediction teammate Bonaventure Uwizeyimana and youngster Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo, who finished second and third respectively.
The former Germany-based UCI Continental Team Bike Aid rider covered the 158km distance in 4 hours, 14 minutes and 19 seconds in a stunning solo performance.
For the first since the inception of Rwanda Cycling Cup in 2015, the first races has attracted all the country’s top cyclists, including former Tour du Rwanda winners Nsengimana, Valens Ndayisenga and reigning champion Joseph Areruya.
The only big names missing out are South Africa-based Adrien Niyonshuti and Dimension Data for Qhubeka Team rider, Samuel Mugisha.
Mugisha won the final race of last year’s Rwanda Cycling Cup, that stretched from Gatuna to Kigali, where he covered the 108.4km distance in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 57 seconds.
Among others, Byukusenge is another highly rated contender. The 27-year old will be looking to start his Rwanda Cycling Cup title defence on a high—he was among only two riders who managed to win more than one race last season.
The Rwanda international won the Muhazi Challenge in Rwamagana District in September and Rubavu – Musanze race, on October 22, in preparation for 2017 Tour du Rwanda.
Today’s race is far beyond a chase for individual accolades, but, also a tense rivalry for top cycling clubs.
In what is expected to be a two-horse race, reigning champions Club Benediction will be up against Rwamagana-based Les Amis Sportif.
It will be a race of egos for the two clubs whose riders make up over 90% of the national cycling team – Team Rwanda Cycling.
Among others, former national team captain Janvier Hadi is back in action and is expected to play a leading role in Club Benediction’s charge, today and for the rest of the season.
For the first time in a long time, Jean Baptiste Rugambwa’s Les Amis Sportif will be fielding their best riders, including Africa’s favourite Areruya, who is set for a move to French side Delko–Marseille Provence KTM next month.
Appearing in his first race since a stellar performance at this year’s African Continental Road Championship staged in Kigali last month where he won four medals, 22-year Areruya will be using today’s race a warm-up for the upcoming XXI Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Unless otherwise, a winner of today’s much anticipated race is likely to come from either of the two top teams. While Felix Sempoma’s Club Benediction is fielding six riders, arch-rivals Les Amis Sportif are taking no chances, and will be represented by 10 cyclists.
Apart from cycling man of the moment Areruya, Les Amis Sportif roster also includes two-time Tour du Rwanda winner Ndayisenga, youngsters Ukiniwabo, Jean Claude Uwizeye, Ephrem Tuyishime, Janvier Rugamba, Sept Hakizimana, Eric Nkundabera, Didier Hakizimana, and Eugene Gashiramanga.
On the other hand, Rubavu-based Club Benediction’s six-man front – all national team riders –is comprised of Nsengimana, former Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider Uwizeyimana, Hadi, youngsters Didier Munyaneza, Uwiduhaye and Rwanda Cycling Cup defending champion, Byukusenge.
Who will take over the crown from Byukusenge?
While Areruya, Ndayisenga and Uwezeye, all riding for Les Amis Sportif today, are heading to France in April for their respective new clubs for the rest of the 2018 season, the question for who is likely to dethrone Byukusenge leaves them out of the equation.
With the three riders out of Rwanda Cycling Cup, it leaves Benediction with quite substantial chances for one of its riders to win this year’s highly coveted trophy.
Should that happen, it will be a third time, out of four, that Club Benediction’s cyclist claims the title.
Nsengimana claimed the inaugural edition in 2015 while Rwanda international and Nyabihu Cycling Team’s Gasore Hategeka scooped the second edition in 2016—the veteran rider can’t be counted out among serious contenders.
There are a lot of contributing factors that determine who wins the championship among which; participating in most races, team work, experience, individual prowess, among others.
With that set of aspects, the riders likely to give Byukusenge a rough run for the money include teammates Munyaneza, Nsengimana, Uwizeyimana and Hadi.
Others are Nyabihu’s Gasore and Ukiniwabo of Les Amis Sportif’s and last year’s Central Challenge winner Mathieu Twizerane, who riders for Huye-based Cycling Club for All.
Today in numbers
Memorial Lambert Byemayire, opening race of the season, has attracted a record 82 cyclists in three separate categories namely; the U23 & elite men’s category, the junior men’s category and the women’s category.
The 49-rider peloton in elite men’s race will depart from Gitikinyoni in Kigali to Huye District and finish off with five laps around Huye town. The men’s junior category is a 17-rider contest and will set off from Muhanga to Huye before doing two laps in Huye town.
The women’s category has attracted 16 cyclists, including the reigning Rwanda Cycling Cup defending champion Beathe Ingabire. They will be flagged off from Muhanga and race to a total 81km distance towards Huye district.
The elite men’s race, arguably the most anticipated portion of the event, covers a distance of 158km while their youngster counterparts will be tested to a 92km distance. Each lap in Huye town is 5.5km long.
Yves Nkurunziza, riding for Club Benediction, is the reigning champion in the juniors’ category and one of the favourites this season.
The 17-year old won two medals in African championships last month, silver in Team Time Trial (TTT) and another silver in Individual Time Trial – ITT.