On Sunday afternoon, after 120 kilometres of fast and intense racing, Joseph Areruya crossed the finish line of stage 7 of the Tour of Rwanda with the yellow jersey on his shoulders and his arms high in the air in the shadows of Kigali's Stade Amahoro.
Seven seconds after defending champion Valens Ndayisenga (Tirol) took the stage win, 21-year-old Areruya crossed the line with a celebration equal to Ndayisenga's. A week on from his fourth-place finish in a prologue that also started and finished at the Stade Amahoro, Areruya was back in the capital writing his name into the record books and claiming a fourth straight overall win for Rwanda at the UCI 2.2 race.
"Today was an amazing and great day. I had fear for this day but no more fear because I have the yellow jersey," Areruya told Cyclingnews while draped in the Rwandan national flag under the finish arch.
For Areruya, the win was a triumph of his legs and head.
Having ridden away from the peloton on stage 1 to Huye, taking a convincing win and lead in the overall standings, stage 2 was riddled with "mistakes".
"All those mistakes that were made on that second stage, we had a really stern talk to the guys and a good meeting that night and the next day it brought the guys back together," sports director Andrew Smith told Cyclingnews of the stage into Rubavu where Areruya was pushed out of the yellow jersey by Illuminate's Simon Pellaud by a full minute.
Bouncing back from the disappointment, Areruya took his second stage of the race a day later into Musanze in a bunch sprint finish. He then reclaimed yellow after the stage 4 finish in Nyamata when he and teammate Metkel Eyob detonated the peloton. Sixth in the Rwamagana bunch sprint, stage 6 from Kayonza to Kigali followed and was on paper Areruya's toughest challenge in his bid for overall victory.
Starting in his hometown of Kayonza, Areruya started the stage wanting to "show my neighbours how strong I am" and duly proved worthy of his nickname, Kimasa, 'Bull', as he and Eyob again rode away from the peloton, this time on the Wall of Kigali' for a one-two finish at the Stade Regional - all but securing the overall win that was confirmed day later, 10 kilometers east across the capital.
"It was very hard this tour. The second stage I lose the yellow jersey. When I lose the yellow jersey I start to think how can I win? We have a meeting with the team and we discuss how we can get the yellow jersey back. It was difficult but we believed with our team and we worked together for the win," said Areruya, now the second youngest overall winner of the race.
"In 2015 I was second and 2016 I was fourth and this year I am first. I am very happy and now I have to train hard and see next year how I can race. I hope to do something nice."
Having made history earlier in the season, with his Baby Giro stage win the first UCI Europe victory for a Rwandan, the tour win caps off a successful first year at Continental level with Dimension Data for Qhubeka for Arreyura. The challenge now for Arreyura and his team is to record the first back-to-back overall wins in race history next August before the 2019 elevation to UCI 2.1 status
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