Joseph Areruya, and Team Rwanda, begin their quest for title defence with the first stage of the 2019 La Tropicale Amissa Bongo on Monday - from Bongoville to Moanda covering a total of 100 kilometres.
The 14th edition of the annual Gabonese race start with a rather daunting test as the 90-rider peloton - representing fifteen teams face the strongest stage 1, according to organisers.
The riders hit the road seeking to take early lead in the 100km opening stage, which is expected to be very gruesome on a feisty course with four hills within only of 20 kilometers. It will then remain 35 kilometres to go before the magnificent final circuit in Moanda.
Areruya, 23, moved into the professional ranks with French side Delko-Marseille, since his victory at the 2018 edition.
"We have had great preparations - for close to two months - and every rider on the team is ready for the race. I believe Stage 1 results will have a lot to say about our chances but it certainly won't be the end," said Areruya.
At the 7-stage race, Rwanda is represented by six cyclists; Areruya, reigning Tour du Rwanda champion Samuel Mugisha, reigning national champion Didier Munyaneza, Tour du Cameroun 2018 winner Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Jean Claude Uwizeye and Yves Nkurunziza.
He added, "After the first day, we shall have a clearer idea of what we can do and improve. We need to have a focused mind, and work to keep the title."
Areruya and his Team Rwanda compatriots will be looking to defend the title of the continent's biggest cycling event following last year's stunning performance when the former Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider became the first Rwandan, and only the third African, to win the race.
"We are fit, and in high spirits, to do our best in representing our country in Gabon, defending the title is our top priority. We will work as team to help each other so that we can make another history," Samuel Mugisha told Times Sport in a separate interview before departing on Saturday.
The 21-year old further noted that, "We know it is going to be harder than last year."
Of the 90 riders racing La Tropicale Amissa Bongo this year, 43 will be making their debut - including Team Rwanda youngster Nkurunziza, bringing the number of riders to have participated at least once to 659.
The Gabonese event, the oldest on the African continent at this level (2.1) of the UCI World Calendar, has traditionally been part of the first races of the cycling season since 2006.
Monday, Jan. 21
Stage 1: Bongoville - Moanda (100km)