Dimension Data for Qhubeka had earmarked Tuesday's stage 2 of the Tour of Rwanda as their opportunity to go on the offensive, but the South African Continental team took control of the race a day earlier than anticipated after Joseph Areruya's solo victory in Huye on stage 1.
Areruya, 21, now holds a commanding lead of 1:28 minutes over 2015 champion Jean Bosco Nsengimana (Rwanda), while Valens Ndayisenga (Tirol Cycling Team) – overall winner a year ago in Dimension Data colours – lies third at 1:30.
"It wasn't really our plan for our guys to go out on the attack," Dimension Data for Qhubeka directeur sportif Andrew Smith told Cyclingnews and RFI during the podium celebrations in Huye. "We thought that we would let the team that is leading, Team Rwanda, do the work, and try to defend the jersey. It actually worked out very well for us."
A stage winner in Huye last year and wearer of the yellow jersey for the day, Areruya has also finished fourth (2016) and second (2015) overall in his national tour, and claimed a stage win at the Girobio this season. Areruya's knowledge of the challenging terrain around Huye meant that it was no surprise to see Rwanda's first winner of a UCI race in Europe exploit his strengths on home roads. Along with the stage and classification leads, Areruya's reward for his panache is total backing from his team in his bid for the victory.
"Tomorrow is a very important stage so we tried to save some energy and in the end, Joseph took a very good opportunity and made the most of it," Smith said of the longest day of the 2.2 Tour of Rwanda in 2017 at 180 kilometres. "I think it is always nice for the Rwandan riders to win in Rwanda and, for now, we will be 100 per cent behind Joseph."
Created in 2016 as the feeder team to WorldTour squad Dimension Data, the five UCI wins in the Continental team's first year all came in Rwanda: the national road title with Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, two stages and the Tour of Rwanda overall with Ndayisenga, and an additional stage with Metkel Eyob.
It's no surprise that Smith and his riders have returned to Rwanda with victory on their minds, and they aren't waiting around to make their mark on the race, as Stefan de Bod's third place in the prologue and Kent Main's runner-up placing on stage 1 confirmed.
“It is one of our objectives to win the Tour of Rwanda. Definitely it is one of the big things for us after winning the stage with Joseph in the Giro. It is right up there," Smith said.
While Dimension Data for Qhubeka is in a strong position with four riders in the top 11 overall, Smith promised that the team isn't content with one win and will be taking on the race until Sunday's conclusion in Kigali.
"We will definitely try to win some stages. We like to race positively but we have to defend the jersey as well. There are six more stages to come and we won't rest on our laurels because we won the stage today," Smith said. “I don't think it will be easy for us in the next six days. In Rwanda, you see the crowds, you see the people and it is very big for a Rwandan rider. It is a really big race in Africa and really big for a Rwandan rider to win here."
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