Valens Ndayisenga (Tirol) is aiming to defend his overall title at the 2017 Tour of Rwanda and secure a contract in Europe for next season. The 23-year-old also won the 2014 edition of the race and holds the joint record of stage wins at the UCI 2.2 race with four. However, Ndayisenga finds himself in contract limbo six weeks from the new year.
Ndayisenga hasn't raced since making his elite World Championships debut in September, but explained to Cyclingnews on the eve of the eight-day race that he is confident of further success in the race. Of his four previous showings at his national tour, 2015 was the sole edition in which Ndayisenga did not win a stage or claim the yellow jersey.
"If I win this year it will be the best one. It will be a record,” an assured Ndayisenga told Cyclingnews at the race hotel in Kigali. "No one has won the Tour of Rwanda three times. Also I am the only one to have won the Tour of Rwanda two times. If I win again, I will become famous I think."
Abraham Ruhumuriza is a five-time winner of the race, including four straight between 2002 and 2005, but his wins came before the race was upgraded to UCI status in 2009.
Following recent Tour of Rwanda tradition, the race starts with a fast 3.3km prologue around the Amahoro Stadium before eight challenging road stages in the 'land of a thousand hills'. A proven performer in the prologue, there is little Ndayisenga's rivals can do against the clock. However, the two-time national time trial champion is expecting to be heavily marked by the 69 riders in the peloton not lining out in Tirol team kit over the seven road stages.
"All riders watch me in the race. They think about me because I've won two times and they think I want to win again. That is why they must watch me. I have prepared for this tour and if I have the opportunity, I can win the Tour of Rwanda again," he said, pointing to former teammate Metkel Eyob of Dimension Data as his primary rival to the yellow jersey.
"I don't like the pressure but they must put me under pressure because I am the champion from last year."
For Ndayisenga, the chance to add another page of history at the Tour of Rwanda has underlined his preparation for the race over the last few months. Out of contract at the end of the year, the $1900 winners cheque will be a welcome reward for victory. However, Ndayisenga is hoping victory will lead to signing his first WorldTour or Pro-Continental contract.
"I want to try and do my best because now I have no contract with my team for next year. I have to work hard to find a contract in Europe for next year," he explained. "If I have a contract in Europe I can try for a contract with a Pro-Continental or WorldTour team. If I get that contract I can race a Grand Tour or the big tours. That way I work hard to win again. I need to do the Tour of France, or Giro d'Italia or Vuelta a Espana.”