Five things you should know about 2020 Tour of Rwanda

IT IS BACK. The Tour du Rwanda 2020 starts in one week, running from Sunday, February 23 through Sunday, March 1.

Billed as the biggest race on the continent, Tour du Rwanda is one of the only two African cycling events under the International Cycling Union (UCI) 2.1 category following its upgrade from 2.2 category last year.

The UCI Africa Tour race has proved to be a glorious time for Rwandans – and regular cycling followers in particular – since the event turned international in 2009, but more prominently since 2014 when Valens Ndayisenga became the first Rwandan to win the race in six years.

By far, Tour du Rwanda is the biggest sporting event in the country. According to Rwanda Cycling Federation (Ferwacy), about 3 million spectators watch the race every year.

In today’s issue, Weekend Sport looks at five things you should know about this year’s edition of the annual race credited of turning Rwanda into one of Africa’s cycling giants.

The participating teams

This year’s Tour du Rwanda will be a 16-team peloton; comprising 12 clubs and four national teams. Rwanda will field three teams – the national team ‘Team Rwanda’ and two clubs, both registered as UCI Continental teams.

The peloton is a balanced representation from the major cycling nations of the African continent and a number of globally experienced teams.

The other clubs are; Total-Direct Energie (France), Delko-Marseille (France), Team Novo Nordisk (USA), Benediction Club (Rwanda), Pro Touch (South Africa), BAI Sicasal (Angola), Bike Aid (Germany), Vino Astana Motors (Kazakhstan) and Israel Cycling Academy.

Powerhouse Eritrea will lead the national teams’ line-up that also includes Ethiopia, Algeria and hosts Rwanda. Two teams Cameroon and Belgium U23 pulled out last week.

Each composition (team) in the Tour du Rwanda comprises five riders.

Cash prizes

A total of $51,000 (about Rwf48.5 million) will be given out to winners in different classifications of this year’s Tour. Of this, the yellow jersey winner will take home USD 4,000, while every stage winner receives $1,400.

At every stage – of the eight stages, the best climber, best sprinter, best young, best African, most combative and best Rwandan riders will also be recognised with a $400 token each. The best team bags $900.

Besides the champion at the end of the eight-stage race, the remaining top 19 are also awarded from $2,500 for the first runner-up to $60 for the 20th-placed rider.

Past winners in 2020 Tour

Astana Pro Team will not be part of the 2020 Tour du Rwanda, and so will their rider Merhawi Kudus who won last year’s Yellow Jersey.

With the absence of the defending champion, the 80-man peloton is only left with three former champions – Jean Bosco Nsengimana (2015), Joseph Areruya (2017) and 2018 winner Samuel Mugisha.

Should either of the three clinch this year’s top prize, he will join Ndayisenga (2014, 2016) as the only riders to ever win the race more than once in its Africa Tour era – since 2009.

Full route

It was unveiled last November that, once again, the Tour will touch all the four provinces and the City of Kigali, with the cyclists starting the challenge in a 108km Stage 1 from Kigali to Rwamagana (Eastern Province) and back to Kigali on February 23.

On the following day, the peloton will depart from Kigali to Huye District (Southern Province) on a 120.5km distance before doing 142km from Huye to Rusizi (Western Province) on February 25. Stage 4 starts from Rusizi to Rubavu (also in Western Province) at a 206.3km distance.

The fifth stage, 84.7km-long, will begin from Rubavu to Musanze (Northern Province) before taking to Muhanga (back in Southern Province) for Stage 6 covering 127.3km of distance.

The penultimate Stage 7 will be a 4.5km Individual Time Trial (ITT) in Kigali on February 29 before the decisive ultimate Stage 8 on March 1, also in Kigali, where the riders will battle it out on a 89.3km distance to mark the end of the 12th Tour du Rwanda.

Tour du Rwanda 2020 will be 889km long, about 7km shorter than the last year’s (889km) edition when the race marked its first edition in UCI 2.1 category.

Debuting teams

Only three teams, Skol Adrien Cycling Academy (SACA) of Rwanda, TSG Terengganu (Malaysia) and Italy’s Androni-Giocatolli will be making their first appearance in the race.

TSG and SACA were the last teams to be approved into this year’s edition. SACA is a merger between Les Amis Sportif de Rwamagana and Fly Cycling Club. Sponsored by brewery company Skol, the club is coached by Rwanda cycling legend Adrien Niyonshuti.

Niyonshuti, 33, represented the country twice in the Olympic Games, first in Mountain Bike at the London 2012 Games before doing the road race at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

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