Tour du Rwanda 2018: Four stages likely to decide the yellow jersey

Tour du Rwanda 2017 winner Joseph Areruya celebrates the victory as he wins stage 3 in Musanze last year. Sam Ngendahimana.

The 2018 Tour du Rwanda stages

August 5
Stage 1: Rwamagana – Rwamagana (104km)
August 6
Stage 2: Kigali – Huye (120.3km)
August 7
Stage 3: Huye – Musanze (195.3km)
August 8
Stage 4: Musanze – Karongi (135.8km)
August 9
Stage 5: Karongi – Rubavu (95.1km)
August 10
Stage 6: Rubavu – Kinigi (Volcanoes National Park) 108.5km
August 11
Stage 7: Musanze – Kigali (107.4km)
August 12
Stage 8: Kigali – Kigali (82.2km)

It is that moment of the year that all cycling fans in Rwanda have been waiting for. The 2018 edition of the famed Tour du Rwanda gets underway in Rwamagana District on Sunday.

This year’s Tour du Rwanda is set to be contested by a record 85 riders, also representing a record 17 teams ranging from UCI professional continental teams and UCI continental teams to national teams and amateur cycling clubs.

Unlike in the past when the race was staged in November, this time it comes a little over three months earlier to allow Rwanda Cycling Federation (Ferwacy) ample time to prepare for the 2019 edition when the race will be awarded a 2.1 UCI category licence.

In what is guaranteed to be a fiercely contested race, the 10th Tour du Rwanda will challenge cyclists on every aspect of road cycling, with cobbles, hilly finales, flat terrains and mountains on the cards for this year’s yellow jersey hopefuls.

Since 2014 when Valens Ndayisenga made history by becoming the first Rwandan to win Tour du Rwanda, no foreign cyclist has been able to win the annual race.

If the home riders are to stretch their dominance of their own race to a fifth consecutive time this year, they will have to prove their all-round ability from August 5 to 12.

As has always been the case, Rwanda will be represented by three teams; Team Rwanda, Club Benediction and Les Amis Sportifs – each with five riders.

Besides the 15 riders, there will be another three Rwandan cyclists plying their trade with guest teams. Ndayisenga and Jean Claude Uwizeye will be riding for French side Pays Olonne Cycliste Côte de Lumière (POCCL) while celebrated legend Adrien Niyonshuti will be featuring for South African side Sampada Cycling Team.

With less than 24 hours to kick-off, Saturday Sports shades light on the stages likely to determine this year’s winner, where Rwandan riders need to gain time on their rivals and where they might need to be more cautious.

Club Benediction’s head coach Felix Sempoma has been in Rwandan cycling since 2005, and is Rwanda’s most qualified cycling coach with a Level II coaching certificate from World Cycling Centre Africa in South Africa.

He explores the four most critical stages of this year’s race.

Stage one: Rwamagana – Rwamagana (104km)

For the first time, this year’s Tour du Rwanda will not start with a prologue race – and will for the first time start outside Kigali – in Rwamagana with a 104-kilometre circuit race around Rwamagana town.

This is the sole stage for sprinters to shine, with only one climb. For any sprinter with sighs set on the highly coveted Tour du Rwanda title, this is a perfect course to set the pace and grab the yellow jersey and put in a considerable gap, then fight to protect it in the climbing stages.

“This is a tough stage because being a circuit race means we shall see very intense attacks. Given the fact that the best sprinters will be seeking to make the best of Rwamagana’s flat terrain, we are likely to end the stage with the yellow jersey holder having a gap of a minute or two unlike in the past when we had prologue and the gap was a few seconds,” said Sempoma.

Stage three: Huye – Musanze (195.3km)

This will be the longest (195.3km) and most grueling stage of this year’s edition, and one of the new stage routes in the race.

With an elevation of 4.198 metres, climbers will have a chance to exploit the four climbs along this route and a new stage winner and likely a new yellow jersey holder will rise to the podium.

“Definitely this being the longest stage of the race it will have notable influence on the final yellow jersey winner. We are likely to see best climbers showing off their skills, and bossing the stage. However, it will require more than just individual brilliance. How a team can work together will also be paramount in determining the winner of the day,” Sempoma said.

Stage four: Musanze – Karongi (135.8km)

This is the second longest stage, with an elevation of 3.232 metres, and for the first time will take Tour du Rwanda through the hilly landscape of Rutsiro district.

“This is more like the Huye-Musanze stage, but what makes it more gruesome are the whirlwinds and very sharp corners. I think it may also contribute to some drastic changes in the overall standings of the table that day,” he noted.

Stage eight: Kigali (Amahoro stadium) – Kigali (Nyamirambo) (82.2km)

The eighth and final stage of the race is the shortest with a distance of 82.2 kilometers.

Nonetheless, it is probably the trickiest and most difficult stage to win. Unlike previous editions when the winner of Tour du Rwanda was confirmed during the penultimate stage, it may be a different story this year, with the stage likely to have a big say on the general classification.

Besides most of the itinerary being new, riders will have a feel of the famous cobble stones, also known as ‘wall of Kigali’, twice.

“Short but tough. I think no one will win this year’s edition if he doesn’t have a good team, this stage will require a combination of teamwork and individual brilliance,” Sempoma explained.

The highly awaited 2018 Tour du Rwanda – which rolls of tomorrow - will cover a record 948.6 kilometers, an elevation of 19.455 meters and a total 31 climbs.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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