Despite yet another failed attempt to lift the Tour of Rwanda title, the region's premier cycling event, Adrien Niyonshuti remains defiant about the country's cycling chances in the near future.
The country's ace rider, who is a professional cyclist with South Africa's MTN Qhubeka, emerged as Rwanda's best rider for a third consecutive year, finishing 9th in the 894.8 km race which was spread over eight stages. Niyonshuti, who was riding for Team Karisimbi, one of two teams from Rwanda, took 22 hours, 54 minutes and 14 seconds to complete the event, a whole ten minutes and 33 seconds behind the overall winner Lill Daren from Team South Africa.
The 30-year-old South African finished a distant 8th in the final stage (Kigali-Rwamagana-Kigali, 124.3 km) but his three stage wins en route to the final stage gave him the edge over Ethiopia's Atsbha Getachew who followed closely in second place. Another South African, Girdlestone Dylan, rounded off the podium slots with 22 hours, 45 minutes and 40 seconds.
"It was a lot tougher than we expected. We never seemed to capitalize on our strong points; we failed to make up for lost ground during the hilly terrains," a disappointed Niyonshuti said. "This is one area where we thrive but we just couldn't pull it off this time round."
"One of the positives though is that we have so many young guys coming through. The likes of Janvier Hadi have made their mark and proved that they can compete at this level which is great for Rwandan cycling," he continued.
In future, Niyonshuti believes that there should be adequate recovery time between the Tour of Rwanda and the African Cycling Championship. "These two events are so close to each other and it takes its toll on riders as we have seen over the last couple of years. I hope we can have that sorted out."
Since the race's incorporation into the International Cycling Union calendar in 2009, no Rwandan has won the race. In 2009, the race was won by Morocco's Adil Jelloul while Daniel Teklehaimanot reigned supreme the following year. Last year, USA's Kiel Reijnen, who rides for Team Type 1, became the first non-African to win the race.
According to the national cycling technical director Jonathan Boyer, the future bodes well for local cycling and believes it's only a matter of time before Rwanda starts dominating the tour. "Every year, we see new riders coming through. This year, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana was one of them," he said.
The 19-year-old, who was riding for Team Akagera, finished inside the top ten on the sixth stage. He also won the yellow and black jersey after emerging as the best aggressive rider on the tour.
Other Rwandans worth mentioning include Nicodem Habiyambere, who won the red jersey after emerging as the best climber in the fifth stage (Muhanga-Musanze).
Overall, Hategeka Gasore finished in 13th place, the veteran Abraham Ruhumuriza came in 15th spot while Emmanuel Rudahunga, Nathan Byukusenge and Hassan Rukundo came in 16th, 17th and 18th positions respectively.
1988: Celestin Ndengeyingoma (Rwanda)
1989: Omar Masumbuko (Rwanda)
1990: Faustin Mparabanyi (Rwanda)
2001: Bernard Nsengiyumva (Rwanda)
2002: Abraham Ruhumuriza (Rwanda)
2003: Abraham Ruhumuriza (Rwanda)
2004: Abraham Ruhumuriza (Rwanda)
2005: Abraham Ruhumuriza (Rwanda)
2006: Kamao (Kenya)
2007: Abraham Ruhumuriza (Rwanda)
2008: Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwanda)
Since its inclusion on the UCI calendar
2009: Adil Jelloul (Morocco)
2010: Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea)
2011: Kiel Reijnen (USA)
2012: Lill Daren (South Africa)