A collective show of strength from the Rwandan teams at the Tour of Rwanda saw the race's battle for yellow ignite on stage 4. Taking control on the 120km stage from Musanze in the north to Nyamata in the south, the performance saw the first major reshuffle of the general classification.
Stage 1 and 3 winner Joseph Areruya is back in yellow and there are five Rwandans in the top-10 overall. Although Areruya is racing with the Dimension Data for Qhubeka team in 2017, his stage victories and claim on the yellow jersey is a win for Rwanda.
There are three Rwandan teams in the race with the club teams, Club Les Amis Sportifs De Rwamagana and Club Benediction de Rubavu, joining the national squad on the start line. All three teams have the single objective of winning the race with a Rwandan, as national team coach Sterling Magnell explained post-stage to Cyclingnews and RFI. Even if that benefits a rival squad like Dimension Data for Qhubeka or the Tirol team of defending champion Valens Ndayisenga.
"We had a few different objectives, the first was to isolate the yellow jersey and put him under pressure from the start and get the jersey off his back and onto the back of a Rwandan," he said. "Our boys were there and everybody was all in. The boys all collaborated and we have two for the national team near the front and still within striking distance."
The star rider on the national team is 2015 champion and four times stage winner Nsengimana. Patrick Byukusenge, 26, has also been riding strongly for the team, as has Didier Munyaneza. Although Rwanda was celebrating the return of Areruya into the race lead, Magnell explained he is still focusing on the top step with one of his riders.
“For Jean Bosco, for Patrick, I have to see the GC to decide the tactic, but for sure we are not going to allow it to stay like that,” he said of the duo who sit fifth at 1:44 minutes and sixth at 2:40 minutes respectively.
"We still have to race. We have many strong cards to play and we know Metkel is a very dangerous rider. Last year he came second to Valens, and I believe he’ll be second on GC now. We are very happy to see Joseph in yellow but we are not content to see the GC stay like that so we will be aggressive and try and put someone from the national team in second place and third place and maybe even the yellow if it is in reach."
To claim yellow, Magnell will need his riders to get the better of Areruya, a rider he knows well from his role as the national coach.
"His nickname is Kimasa which means machine in Kinyarwanda and from the beginning, he had always had so much power," he said. "For him, the challenge is to use that power intelligently. To be smart, to have confidence but to also look to his team and understand his role in the sport and not to go in the breakaway by himself every time."
Although results are important qualifiers of success, for Magnell, performance is arguably of greater importance in the long-term development of his young riders. And the Tour of Rwanda is a key testing ground and race for his riders to develop the necessary race craft and skill to progress into the professional ranks.
"This is the same challenge for a lot of our young boys that they need to think as a team and to develop the tactics," he explained. "Some races you can win on power alone but if they don't learn how to use tactics, they won't be successful in the bigger races. That is really what UCI 2.2 races are for, the national team is for, the Continental teams are for. It is where the young riders are supposed to learn.
"That is my first objective, even if they lose or if Joseph doesn't win the yellow jersey or Valens doesn't win, if they use sound tactics and race intelligently and use the power they have to its best place, then I am happy."