South Africa's Darren Lill won the third stage and claimed the overall lead at the 2012 Tour of Rwanda international road cycling tour on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old Capetonian, who races for the Team Bonitas professional team, flew the South African flag high on Tuesday, finishing second on stage two and first on stage three, as captain of the national team.
Stage two, on Tuesday morning, was over a distance of 44.1km with 1 049 metres of climbing from Kigali to Muhanga, while the afternoon's stage, originally scheduled to be 71km, was 76km with 918 metres of ascent from Muhanga to Huye.
"It's actually quite tricky doing a double-stage day. I find I'm way more comfortable doing longer single stages in a day, but it obviously turned out well for the team as I'm leading from fellow South Africans, Shaun Ward, by seven seconds and Dylan Girdlestone, by 14 seconds," said the former South African and African road champion.
"I'm a little surprised because I was off the bike for three weeks with a virus and only had two weeks of riding before this tour. I actually declined my selection, asking Cycling South Africa (CSA) to send someone in better form or younger, but they said my experience was important and I'd be a valuable mentor to the younger riders on the team," explained Lill.
"Both stages were quite hilly today, which broke the racing up a bit. We'll hit some bigger climbing stages on Wednesday and Thursday, so we're expecting to be on the defensive. There are some strong climbers from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya. There are also teams from France and Canada here," he added.
Lill's stage win and yellow jersey come at the end of a year in which he produced strong performances in stage races for Team Bonitas in South Africa, Spain and Portugal.
"I am suffering a bit with the altitude, having come from the coast. We're climbing as high as 2 700 metres above sea level, which is pretty high, about a kilometre higher than Johannesburg," said Lill. "But the morale of the team is good and we have some good depth. We're going all out to keep this yellow jersey in the team."
"Even though he's not at full strength right now, Darren's experience has counted in his favour. It's great to see him leading an international stage race and having the South African team so well poised," said Team Bonitas owner Malcolm Lange.
'Raising the standard'
"At Team Bonitas, we're intent on raising the standard of South African road racing, which is one of the main reasons we have registered as a UCI Continental team again for 2013.
"I'm pleased CSA sent Darren to help mentor the young team. If we want to see our riders in bigger numbers and in podium contention at World Champs and Olympic Games, we need to be scoring as many points as possible at races like the Tour of Rwanda," Lange said.
The eight-day, nine-stage tour ends on Sunday.