History beckons for Tour du Rwanda as it enters a new era as a UCI 2.2 category race on Sunday, making it only the second African race at that level – the other one being Gabon’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
Cycling experts have primed Tour du Rwanda to automatically take over from Amissa Bongo as the new biggest cycling event on the continent, thanks to its neat organization and thousands of spectators that line the streets wherever the race goes in the country.
Not only is Tour du Rwanda upgrading to a new level, but it will also for the first time have a UCI World Tour team – Astana Pro Team – taking part in the eight-stage race.
Joseph Areruya outsprints a breakaway group to win Stage 3 in Musanze District during the 2017 Tour du Rwanda, which he went on to claim while riding for South African side Dimension Data for Qhubeka. Sam Ngendahimana.
Based in Kazakhstan, Astana is a regular in the famous Tour de France, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the race in 2014 while riding for the Kazakhstanis team.
Also, four UCI continental professional teams, including French side Delko Marseille that is led by Rwanda’s Joseph Areruya, are also part of the 17-team peloton this year. Others are; Team Novo Nordisk (United States), Israel Cycling Academy and Direct Energie – another French side.
Unlike in its last ten editions, this time Rwanda will be represented by two teams – Team Rwanda and Excel Energy Benediction Club – rather than three, which is expected to be a setback in the ten riders’ quest to keep the coveted yellow jersey home for a sixth time running.
Since 2014 when Ndayisenga became the first Rwandan to win Tour du Rwanda, since turning international in 2009, no foreign cyclist has been able to win the UCI Africa Tour race.
For many, the 2019 Tour du Rwanda presents a real shot for foreign riders to end the dominance home cyclists have imposed in their own race over the last five years.
For any Rwandan rider to be this year’s champion is highly seen as ‘near-impossible’ task.