More than 20,000 fans poured onto the streets of Kigali on Tuesday evening to welcome Team Rwanda Cycling and, particularly, Joseph Areruya, the 21-year old rider who won this year’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo race on Sunday.
Celebrations greeted the team’s arrival at the Kigali International Airport at around 3p.m, and jubilant fans accompanied Team Rwanda from the airport to Amahoro Indoor Stadium, where thousands danced and praised Areruya and his teammates for flying Rwanda’s flag high in Gabon.
While Areruya won the best individual award, Team Rwanda was named the best team at the competition.
“We went from zero to hero and are very excited to see the warmth and the love from the fans,” Areruya told cheering crowds at the arena.
He praised his teammates for jointly working hard and emerging triumphant in the West African nation.
La Tropicale Amissa Bongo is one of the most competitive and popular cycling competitions in Africa.
“On the last day of the competition I said to myself ‘you’ve got to do it’, to peddle hard until it hurts,” Areruya, who is also the reigning Tour du Rwanda champion, said.
Team Rwanda technical director and coach Felix Sempoma, said: “We left for the competition quietly but the scenes on our arrival are amazing, it’s wonderful.”
He said the team had not fully grasped how much their performance had been welcomed back home. “It’s a fantastic atmosphere, we are so grateful.”
Areruya, fondly known as Kimasa (Kinyarwanda for ‘bull’) within the local cycling cycles, is the first African to win the annual race with a national team.
On his way to glory, the youngster first won the yellow jersey when he became the first rider to cross the finish line in the fourth stage of the competition. He held onto the yellow jersey through the final day.
Team Rwanda is comprised of six riders, namely; Areruya, Valens Ndayisenga, Jean Damascene Ruberwa, Didier Munyaneza, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana and Rene Jean Paul Ukiniwabo.
Besides the prizes that Team Rwanda won in Gabon, the stars were also awarded with different prizes during the welcome-ceremony in Kigali yesterday.
Areruya received a complete DSTV installation kit and a one-month subscription, courtesy of Tele-10, while his teammates, as well as coach Sempoma, physiotherapist Obed Ruvogera, and mechanic Eric Maniraho received a Canal+ full bouquet complete with one-month subscription each.
In Gabon, Team Rwanda also won in the U-23 and best Africa categories.
Areruya is the first cyclist to concurrently hold La Tropicale Amissa Bongo and Tour du Rwanda crowns.