Rwanda's celebrated rider Valens Ndayisenga has said he and his teammates are ready to raise the country's flag high during this year's Tour du Rwanda, which gets underway on Sunday.
The 10th edition of the now UCI category 2.1 road race is scheduled for February 24 through March 3 and is set to attract more competitive riders and teams than previous editions.
Rwanda will be represented by two teams which will be boasting such stars as former winners Ndayisenga, Jean Claude Uwiyeze, Jean Damascene Ruberwa, MoiseMugisha and Samuel Hakiruwizeye.
And Ndayisenga believes that Rwandan cyclists have all it takes to successfully defend their title this year even as the 2019 race is expected to be tougher.
This is the first time Tour du Rwanda will be taking place as a 2-1 race after it was elevated from 2.2 category, arguably making it the biggest race on the African continent.
"Tour du Rwanda continues to improve by the year and this year we will see the participation of more elite teams, nonetheless, we are ready for the challenge," Ndayisenga said.
Team Rwanda and Benediction Excel Energy Club will represent Rwanda in the race, with the country having previously fielded three teams in the annual competition.
"We can win the Tour again," said the Rwandan star rider.
Rwandans have dominated the competition in recent years.
Tour du Rwanda became part of UCI Africa in 2009 and it has since attracted over 500 riders from across the world.
Rwanda's Samuel Mugisha is the reigning champion and the fourth Rwandan to ever win the race after Valens Ndayisenga (2014, 2016), Jean BoscoNsengimana (2015) and Joseph Areruya in 2017.
This year's race will see riders take on a gruesome stage 3 from Huye to Rubavu, a 213.1km race, the longest stage in the history of the annual event.
In total, the 16-team peloton will cover 959.1km over the course of eight days. The 2009 Tour du Rwanda edition will cover seven stages besides the prologue.
The race will start in Kigali and the overall winner will be decided on the ultimate stage with the famous 'Wall of Kigali', which the riders will climb four times before heading to the finish line at Kigali stadium in Nyamirambo.
Meanwhile, Team Novo Nordisk have already arrived in Rwanda ahead of the race. Other foreign teams are expected mid this week.
Tour du Rwanda 2019 (2.1)
- Total distance 959.1km
February 24: Kigali - Kigali (112.5km)
February 25: Kigali - Huye (120.3km)
February 26: Huye - Rubavu
February 27:Rubavu - Karongi
February 28: Karongi - Musanze (138.7 km)
March 1:Musanze - Nyamata (120.5km)
March 2:Nyamata - Kigali (84.2 km)
March 3: Kigali - Kigali (66.8 km)