For Dimension Data for Qhubeka, the Tour of Rwanda has brought great success to the WorldTour development team. Stage 2 of the UCI 2.2 race, though, was a day of disappointment as Joseph Areruya lost the yellow jersey he won in dominant fashion the day prior.
In the team meeting that followed and on the morning of stage 3, sports director Andrew Smith hatched a plan for an aggressive approach from the gun. Identifying the technical circuit in Rubavu, which included a short uphill sector of pavé, Smith explained to Cyclingnews and RFI that he wanted an aggressive team showing from his squad. And the riders delivered in spades, making the stage and claiming the win in a bunch sprint with Areruya.
"We looked a little bit at what the peloton did in the circuit because it was more technical than most of the roads in Africa," he explained. "We managed to get two guys in the move early on and then Joseph managed to ride over and we had three guys in the front, which really suited us."
The two men in the breakaway with Areruya were Stefan de Bod, third in the prologue, and Rwandan Samuel Mugisha. The duo drove the early break on the circuits and when the race departed the city on the banks of Lake Kivu for Musanze, played the tactical and team game with Areruya after he rode across the gap.
Although the break didn't make it to the line, the move forced several squads onto the back foot and forced them into the chase. The peloton was well aware of how quickly Areruya could take ten seconds and turn it into a minute-plus-winning move. The move was also designed to test the strength of Team Illuminate's three-man team and its grip on the yellow jersey with Simon Pellaud.
The American squad proved worthy of the challenge from Dimension Data for Qhubeka. But with Edwin Avila on bidon duty for the race, in the sprint the Colombian was out-muscled by Areruya. Despite not gaining time on Pellaud, who was fourth in the sprint and retained his one-minute lead, there was cause for celebration because of his stage victory.
"The opportunity was there to take some time but the course didn't really play in our favour. Pellaud and his team were really strong in the run in to the finish so I think we got away with Joseph not doing too much work," he said. "We are very confident looking at the parcours tomorrow that we can have a good result tomorrow and take some time back tomorrow. That will be our goal.
"It is good for the confidence of the team, good for Joseph's confidence to take a win today. Hopefully, we can build on that for tomorrow and the day after."
Particularly pleasing for Smith was the team's response after stage 2, in which he admitted "we made mistakes yesterday", with his squadron learning from its defeat.
"As I said to you after the first stage, it wasn't really our plan to take the jersey on the first stage," he explained. "Definitely in the meeting the guys realised to try and stick to the plan and the race isn't won on the first day. For us as a development team, it is about learning."
Having taken the overall win last year with Valens Ndayisenga, along with three stage wins, the team is on track to match its haul. While Pellaud has stated he has no ambition for yellow, Smith explained that he believes the Swiss rider is bluffing and the GC is a likely three-way battle between the race leader, Areruya, and Ndayisenga, who is now racing with Tirol.
"I think Pellaud is very strong. He might be hiding something. Valens is a very good climber and tomorrow the course really suits him and he knows the roads as well as Joseph and anyone else from around here," he said. "We cannot take anything for granted. We are hoping that as the race goes on, we get stronger. The team will take a lot of confidence out of today."
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