Team Rwanda start early preps for 2019 La Tropicale Amissa Bongo

Joseph Areruya is joined on the podium by Gabonese President, Ali Bongo Ondimba (L), after he was crowned the champion of the 2018 La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in January. File photo.

The national cycling team – Team Rwanda – riders have been summoned to the Africa Rising Cycling Centre in Musanze District to begin preparations for the 2019 La Trpicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon.

The 14th edition of the annual race will run from January 21 through 27.

Team Rwanda riders will be looking to defend the title of the continent’s biggest cycling event following this year’s stunning performance from Joseph Areruya.

The 22-year became the first Rwandan and third African cyclist to win the annual race, only after Eritrean Natnael Berhane in 2014 and Tunisia’s Rafaâ Chtioui in 2015.

Speaking to Times Sport on Wednesday, head coach Sterling Magnell revealed that the team began training on Monday, along with the country’s Europe-based professional riders who are currently on end-of-year break from their clubs.

The American tactician further noted that they will camp and train together until the inaugural Tour du Rwanda’s edition as a 2.1 UCI category race come February 24 – March 3, 2019.

“This is the first week of training, and riders are responding well so far. We will keep training until Tour du Rwanda 2019, taking one week of break for Christmas and short breaks at the end of every four-week cycle,” said Magnell.

Asked when the final roster to compete in Gabon will be announced, Magnell responded that, “It will be confirmed soon, probably next week.”

The seven-stage race will cover a total of 860 kilometers, this time visiting Equatorial Guinea via Cameroon and a total of 15 teams have been confirmed to compete – including 10 African national teams and five professional teams.

At its 13th edition this year, Rwanda was represented by six riders, led by the then Tour du Rwanda champion Areruya who went on to defy odds and lift the title in Gabonese capital, Libreville, in the presence of President Ali Bongo Ondimba on January 21.

The team also comprised of Didier Munyaneza, Jean Damascene Ruberwa, Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana and two-time Tour du Rwanda champion Valens Ndayisenga.

Despite losing the experienced duo of Ndayisenga and Uwizeyimana on Stage 5 after suffering accidents, Felix Sempoma’s men held off first runner-up Holler Nikodemus and his Bike Aid teammates as well as second runner-up Gaudin Damien and his Direct Energie teammates to clinch the highly coveted award.

Areruya assumed the pole position of the race’s general classification after winning Stage 4 and subsequently took the yellow jersey, which he would hold onto till the final stage – Stage 7 – to register what remains his biggest victory to date in 23 hours, 52 minutes and 24 seconds.

Riding for German side Bike Aid, Nikodemus (23:52:42) finished second, 32 seconds ahead of third-finisher Gaudin who raced for Direct Energie. Koshevoy Ilia (23:54:15) and Australian Brenton Jones (23:59:51) completed top five.

This was Team Rwanda’s first victory in any UCI Africa Tour race outside the country, which was in less than 10 days followed by another outstanding triumph at the inaugural Tour de l’Espoir in Cameroun, also through Areruya.

Uwizeyimana, 25, confirmed Rwanda’s status as a rising cycling powerhouse on the continent as he put up a strong performance to win this year’s Tour du Cameroun before youngster Samuel Mugisha rounded off the season with Tour du Rwanda win in August.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

ADVERTISEMENT