National team rider Joseph Areruya has saluted his teammates for helping him win the 13th Tropicale Amissa Bongo race, which concluded on Sunday in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
The 21-year-old, who rides for South Africa-based UCI Continental Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, covered the seven-stage-998km race in 23 hours, 52 minutes and 24 seconds.
He finished 18 seconds ahead of second-placed Holler Nikodemus of Germany’s Team Bike Aid.
With victory in Africa’s biggest cycling race, Areruya became the most decorated cyclist in history of Rwanda- as the first rider to hold both Tour du Rwanda and Tropicale Amissa Bongo simultaneously.
“I obviously had a little anxiety at the start because everything can happen in the opening stage. But thanks to my teammates, I managed to take control of the situation and the race, they did a really good job once we took the lead,” Areruya told Times Sport on return from Libreville on Tuesday.
He noted that, “The guys gave everything they had in their tank to help me keep my yellow jersey for three days. It’s because of them that we managed to get this great victory.”
Areruya credited young teammates; Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo, Jean Damascente Ruberwa and Didier Munyaneza after the more experienced riders; Valens Ndayisenga and Bonavanture Uwizeyimana dropped out following an accident in the fourth stage, which was won by Areruya.
As a reward for his historic triumph, Areruya, collected a total of Rwf12.7 million, which is almost 10 times more than the US$1800 (about Rwf1.5m) that he got for winning Tour du Rwanda.
“We did well the whole race and I think we deserved something. I am thankful to my teammates. Our plan was to win the race and we did it, I am happy with that,” he added.
In general classification, Ukiniwabo finished 54th with 24h16’46’’ while Ruberwa came in 56th position with 24h17’36’’, however Munyaneza abandoned the race in the last 15 kilometres of the last day.
Areruya is the third African to win La Tropicale after the Eritrean Natnael Berhane in 2014 and the Tunisian Rafaa Chtioui in 2015 but he is the first to achieve this performance with the jersey of his national team.
The Tropicale Amissa Bongo once again fulfilled its mission by allowing African riders a high-flying sporting confrontation against professional teams accustomed to major races on the world calendar like the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia.
After the La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, which is the first race on the UCI Africa Tour calendar, focus will shift to next month’s UCI African Continental Road Championship slated for February 13-18 in Rwanda.