TEAM RWANDA youngsters were in upbeat mood last night – at 1:45am – as they boarded an Ethiopian Airlines flight heading to Cameroon where title defence quest awaits them at this year’s Tour de l’Espoir.
The second edition of the annual U23 Nations Cup is scheduled for February 4-9.
Speaking to Saturday Sport before the team’s departure, coach Nathan Byukusenge said his riders were ‘well-prepared’ and fit for the title defence battle.
“We have picked a young squad, and everyone is fit and determined to give it their best. The target is to make our country proud in Cameroon again,” said Byukusenge.
The former Rwanda international conceded that, “It is going to be a tough call, but we want to retain the title. I have confidence in the boys, and the good preparations we have had over the last two months.”
The six-man Team Rwanda roster, which is led by star youngster Yves Nkurunziza, also includes; Samuel Hakiruwizeye, Eric Manizabayo, Jean Damascene Ruberwa, Jean Claude Nzafashwanayo and Moise Mugisha.
“We are taking the competition seriously and want good results, but first we are looking at how our riders can gain confidence and experience at such big platforms,” he further noted.
Rwanda will be looking to defend the title they won last year when Joseph Areruya was crowned the champion of the race’s inaugural edition, while Team Rwanda was the champion team.
“It’s important that we keep focus and thankfully we don’t have injuries or any other concern on the team. We need to put our heart on winning the race,” the 38-year old said.
The champion team will automatically earn qualification to this year’s Tour de l’Avenir in France, a race that is regarded as the U23 version of the famous Tour de France.
Full 19team list:
Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mauritius, Nigeria, Tunisia, Rwanda, Argentina, Portugal, Ecuador, Monaco, Japan, South Africa and the hosts Cameroon.