Merhawi Kudus has saluted Rwandans for the ‘love and passion’ they showed during the just-concluded Tour du Rwanda, which ran from February 24 through March 3 across the country.
The Astana Pro Team’s Eritrean rider was crowned the 2019 Tour du Rwanda champion on Sunday, having managed to hold onto the yellow jersey since winning Stage 2 on February 25.
It was the event’s inaugural edition as a UCI 2.1 category race after ten years in 2.2 category.
He claimed the 953.6km eight-stage race in 24 hours 12 minutes 37 seconds, ten seconds ahead of first runner-up Rein Taaramae (Direct Energie), and had 18 seconds on Matteo Badilatti (Israel Cycling Academy) who completed the podium.
The annual UCI Africa Tour race ended on a high for the Kazakh side – Astana – as their Colombian rider Rodrigo Contreras scooped the ultimate eighth stage, while Kudus managed to overcome stiff competition from his closest rivals en route to becoming the first Eritrean to win Tour du Rwanda since Daniel Teklehaimanot in 2010.
In an exclusive interview with Times Sport after his stunning victory, Kudus was full of praise for the people of Rwanda and the immaculate organisation of Africa’s biggest cycling race.
“I won Tour du Rwanda, but the people of Rwanda also won my heart. Their warmth, and love for cycling was just amazing. I felt at home throughout the race,” said Kudus, who was making his first Tour du Rwanda appearance since 2012.
He further noted: “There is no doubt this [Tour du Rwanda] is the best cycling event in Africa, and Rwanda is the most cycling-friendly country on the continent.”
The 2018 African Cyclist of the Year, Joseph Areruya, was the best Rwandan performer, in ninth position in general classification, and for the first time since 2012, there was no stage victory for any Rwandan rider.
Samuel Mugisha, 21, who was the defending champion, finished in a below-par 18th position. Other former champions; Valens Ndayisenga and Jean Bosco Nsengimana finished in 13th and 39th spots, respectively.
Youngster Yakob Debesay, another Eritrean, won double as he clinched the King of the Mountains (KoM), with 80 points, and the best young rider jerseys. Team Rwanda’s Moise Mugisha was the most combative rider of the race while South African Rohan Du Plooy, of Pro Touch, took the jersy for the best sprinter.
Eritrea national team topped the team classification, followed by Japan’s Interpro Cycling Academy while Astana finished third. Rwanda’s Benediction Excel Energy was sixth.