In 2016, Valens Ndayisenga stamped his authority on the Tour of Rwanda by winning the penultimate stage and cementing his second overall victory. 12-months on from his storming ride up the 'Wall of Kigali', a 500-metre pavé climb with pitches of 18 per cent, the Tirol rider could only watch on as his former team, Dimension Data for Qhubeka, blew the race to pieces to virtually seal the 2017 edition on stage 6.
Just like stage 4 into Nyamata this year, it was Metkel Eyob and Joseph Areruya, in the green and yellow jerseys, celebrating the win. Mobbed by the crowds as he crossed the line at the Stade Régional Nyamirambo finish, 24-year-old Ndayisenga improved his position overall by one place to sixth.
The Tour of Rwanda has been Ndayisenga's most successful race of his young career. A stage winner on his 2013 debut, Ndayisenga returned the next year to claim a second stage and his first overall win. The 2015 edition was less of a success, and he left the race before stage 5. Returning last year having inked his first Continental contract with Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Ndayisenga rode into yellow on stage 2 via solo victory in Karongi.
Ndayisenga then sealed his overall win by taking the 'Wall of Kigali' stage ahead of then-teammate Eyob. Asked to compare the differences between this year and last, there was little hesitation from Ndayisenga in his answer.
"This Tour of Rwanda is different to last year. It was hard but this is harder than last year," he said, adding "This year he [Areruya] is looking very strong."
With a 10-lap circuit of 12 kilometres to come Sunday in Kigali, anything but an overall win for Areruya would be a surprise result. The 21-year-old has finished no lower than 10th across the seven stages of racing and holds a 35 seconds advantage over Eyob.
Although Ndayisenga won't be celebrating the third overall win he was confident of achieving before the race, he explained that a fourth straight win for a Rwandan is the perfect outcome and well-deserved for his national teammate.
"It is good for Rwanda. If it's another guy who wins it, it will be difficult for the Rwanda people," he said. "If a Rwandan wins it is very good. I think people now in Rwanda are happy. I think it is the best race in Africa, it is a good one."
Elevated to UCI status in 2009, the first five editions of the race were all won by foreign riders. Since Ndayisenga in 2014, the local riders have taken control of the race will likely start as favourites for the 10th edition when the race moves to August next year.
The next event on home soil for Ndayisenga is the African Continental Championships in February. The Kigali tifosi will also be expecting their heroes to repeat their Tour of Rwanda success in February. Although no male Rwandan has won a medal at the elite African championships, Ndayisenga won silver in the 2015 edition of the U23 time trial.
With a professional contract yet to eventuate for next season, Ndayisenga will allow for a short end of year break before focusing on February's championships and delivering a crowd-pleasing win for Rwanda.
"Next year in February we have the African championships. I think after two weeks, we will prepare for the team time trial, time trial and road race. We have a big job to do after the Tour of Rwanda," he said.
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