Tour de l’Espoir: Team Rwanda start quest for title defence

Jean Damascene Ruberwa, who was part of last year’s triumphant Team Rwanda, is the only rider making a second appearance at the UCI Under-23 race. File.

TEAM RWANDA youngsters, under the guidance of coach Nathan Byukusenge, will start their Tour de l’Espoir title defence today when the five-stage U23 Nations Championship race gets underway in Douala, Cameroon.

The second edition of the annual event begins with a 18.6km Team Time Trial (TTT) race in Douala, the country’s biggest city.

On the six-man team that departed Kigali Friday night, only Jean Damascene Ruberwa was part of Team Rwanda that claimed the race’s inaugural edition last year.

According to Byukusenge, every rider has exceptional quality and strength that he brings on the team, and their determination coupled with good preparations they have had over the last two months put them in a good position to accomplish the mission in Cameroon.

“Our top priority in Cameroon is to retain the title. We have been in intensive preparations over the last two months, and I am confident my boys are up for the mission,” Rwanda legend Byukusenge told Times Sport before his delegation’s departure on Friday.

The 38-year-old, who represented the country at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Mountain Biking, further noted that the team will largely rely on the sprinting specialty of Moise Mugisha, the experience Ruberwa and Yves Nkurunziza as well as the team spirit of Samuel Hakiruwizeye.

The team also includes; Eric Manizabayo and Jean Claude Nzafashwanayo.

“The least we are looking for in the opening stage is a top three finish, from there we will then regroup and set strategies – based on the reality on the ground – for the remaining stages,” added Byukusenge.

After Monday’s stage, the 112 riders – comprising a 19-team peloton – will immediately shift attention to Stage 2 on Tuesday, which will be 102.3-kilometre long, also in Douala City.

Rwandan, Joseph Areruya – Africa’s reigning cyclist of the year – claimed the 2018 edition of Tour de l’Espoir after clocking 10 hours, 23 minutes and 34 seconds to cover 447 kilometers of the then four-stage race.

The number of participating teams has this year seen a sharp increase from fourteen to nineteen, including five non-African teams namely; Argentina, Ecuador, Japan, Monaco and Portugal.

The eventual winners 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.