Why 2018 was the best year yet for Rwanda cycling

The year 2018 was action-packed for domestic sports and particularly successful for some disciplines such as basketball, chess and karate.

However, very few, if any, would disagree that cycling stood out and 2018 was the most memorable season since the sport came to limelight in Rwanda in 2014.

From Joseph Areruya’s historic triumph at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo to Samuel Mugisha’s Tour du Rwanda victory, our first 2019 issue of Saturday Sports Magazine looks back at some of the main cycling events that dominated headlines last year.

Areruya makes history in Gabon

The 2018 season started on a high note with Areruya making history in January as he became the first Rwandan to win La Tropicale Amissa Bongo – Africa’s biggest cycling event.

The 22-year-old also became the first rider to hold both the Tour du Rwanda and La Tropicale Amissa Bongo titles simultaneously. He is now the most successful Rwandan cyclist in history of UCI Cycling 2.1 stage race.

Areruya, who rides for French side Delko–Marseille Provence, led the race since his stage 4 victory en route to the historic triumph after clocking a total of 23hrs, 52 minutes and 24 seconds, 18 seconds ahead of Nikodemus Holler (23:52:42) who was featuring for Germany-based UCI Continental Team Stradalli Bike Aid.

The former Les Amis Sportifs de Rwamagana rider, helped by teammates; Didier Munyaneza, Jean Damascene Ruberwa and Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo, managed to keep the yellow jersey for three days despite facing stiff competition from Nikodemus.

Areruya only became the third African rider to win the prestigious race, since its inception in 2004, after Eritrean Natnael Berhane in 2015 and Tunisia’s Rafaâ Chtioui in 2015.

Team Rwanda dominate Tour de l’Espoir

Less than two weeks after his la Tropicale victory, cycling sensation Areruya cemented his place as Africa’s best rider after the former Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider won the inaugural U-23 UCI Tour de l’Espoir in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Besides Areruya’s individual victory, Team Rwanda was also the champion team as they qualified for the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir in France, the world’s top-rated U23 cycling event.

The six-man roster also comprised; Didier Munyaneza, Samuel Hakiruwizeye, Jean Paul René Ukiniwabo, Jean Damascene Ruberwa and Samuel Mugisha.

However, what remained the highlight of the four-stage race is that Areruya claimed it without winning a single stage, with the closest being his second place finish in Stage 3, which was clinched by Samuel Mugisha.

By lifting the champion team title, Rwanda became the first African team to qualify for the famous Tour de l’Avenir, also regarded as the U23 version of Tour de France.

Sterling Magnell’s youngsters vied for the sole ticket with thirteen more national teams namely; South Africa, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Mauritius, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tunisia and hosts Cameroon.

Areruya won the 447km race in 10 hours, 27 minutes and 34 seconds, a whopping 2 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of first runner-up El Mehdi Chokri of Morocco.

Record 10 medals for Rwanda in African champs

Team Rwanda may have not topped the medal table or win medals in most crucial races at last year’s African Continental Road Championships, but definitely the home cyclists put up their A-game to earn the second runner-up position.

The 13th edition of the annual event was held on February 13-18, 2018 in Kigali.

Team Rwanda riders won a total 10 medals; 3 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze medals to finish third on the final medal table behind Eritrea (20 medals) and Ethiopia, 13 medals. This was by far, the best performance for Rwanda in African championships.

The closest Rwanda had come was at the 2016 edition in Morocco where they won three medals.

Apart from silver medals in elite men’s TTT and bronze in elite women’s TTT, the rest of Team Rwanda’s silverwares came from the junior and Under-23 categories.

Star rider Areruya was the tournament’s highly decorated cyclist, appearing on podium a total four times.

He won silver with teammates Valens Ndayisenga, Jean Bosco Nsengimana and Adrien Niyonshuti in elite men’s TTT, gold in U23 men’s ITT and bronze in elite men’s ITT as well as gold in U23 men’s road race.

Uwizeyimana wins Tour du Cameroun

Rwanda international Bonaventure Uwizeyimana became the first Rwandan to win Tour du Cameroun last June after covering the 939.6km of the annual race’s 15th edition in 21 hours, 53 minutes and 20 seconds.

Not only was it Uwizeyimana’s historic first victory in a UCI sanctioned race, it was also Team Rwanda’s maiden win at the 8-stage race in the West African country since the 2010 debut.

The Benediction Club rider finished 3 minutes and 38 seconds ahead of Slovak Martin Haring who took the second position. Teammate Martin Mahdar (21:57:21) completed the podium.

Felix Sempoma’s men also topped the rankings in team classification, followed Dukla Banská Bystrica of Slovakia and Cameroon’s SNH Vélo Club in second and third place, respectively.

Mugisha wins Tour du Rwanda

Samuel Mugisha, aged 20 years and 250 days, wrote his name into history books on August 12, 2018 as he became the youngest rider ever to win the coveted Tour du Rwanda title.

The Team Rwanda rider, who was making his third Tour du Rwanda appearance – since his 2016 debut – covered the 953.2km of the eight-stage race in 24 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds.

The 2016 Tour du Rwanda’s King of the Mountains beat his closest rival and compatriot Jean Claude Uwizeye by 21 seconds, with the latter posting 24h27’14” while Ethiopian Mulu Hailemicheal (25h27’57”) finished in third position.

Mugisha who plies his trade with South Africa’s Italy-based Dimension Data for Qhubeka, was the fourth Rwandan to win Tour du Rwanda in five consecutive years after Valens Ndayisenga in 2014 – and 2016, Jean Bosco Nsengimana in 2015 and Areruya in 2017.

Mixed fortunes for Team Rwanda at Tour de l’Avenir

Exhaustion from Tour du Rwanda, flight fatigue and an unfamiliar environment combined to subdue Team Rwanda’s debut at Tour de l’Avenir as only Samuel Mugisha and Joseph Areruya, of Team Rwanda’s six riders, managed to complete the 10-stage grueling race.

The other four team members; Didier Munyaneza, Samuel Hakiruwizeye, Rene Ukiniwabo and Eric Manizabayo, bowed out of the race after Stage Three.

Out of 156 riders in the contest, Areruya finished in the 73rd position after using 27 hours, 11 minutes and 28 seconds, a total of 42 minutes and 35 seconds a drift champion Tadej Pogačar, while Mugisha (27:11:45) finished in the 76th spot.

Team Rwanda made their debut in France less than a week after Tour du Rwanda.

Areruya scooped Stage 10’s most aggressive rider award, which was Africa’s first and only award at the prestigious event.

Team Rwanda suffer car accident at GP Chantal Biya

Last September, Team Rwanda prematurely withdrew from the 2018 Grand Prix Chantal Biya after all its riders were left injured in a car accident as they traveled on a bus to the start of Stage 4, from Samgmelima to Meyomessala.

Jean Bosco Nsengimana and Bonaventure Uwizeyimana sustained severe injuries and had to be sidelined, from any competitive race, for up to two months.

The five-rider team also included debutants Janvier Rugamba, Eric Manizabayo and Michel Uwiduhaye.

Areruya named African Cyclist of the Year

The memorable season for Rwanda cycling was capped by Joseph Areruya’s victory after being voted by a jury of experts as the 2018 African Cyclist of the Year last month.

After finishing second during the annual award’s 2017 edition, the celebrated rider stepped up his game this time round to beat South Africa’s Daryl Impey and Eritrean Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier to the award.

The Rwanda international and Delko–Marseille rider is the first and only Rwandan to ever win the highly coveted prize since its inception in 2012.

Youngster Samuel Mugisha finished sixth on the 15-man shortlist while compatriot Bonaventure Uwizeyimana came in 14th position.

This was the first time that Rwanda had more than two riders in Africa’s 15 best cyclists of the year.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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