Already delayed, the 13th edition of Tour du Rwanda sets off Sunday, May 2, 2021, amidst strict public health guidelines against coronavirus pandemic to keep the 75 riders safe from infection.
Staging the 2.1 category race, one of the best in Africa under such difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic is a testament to Rwanda’s already success story of how the country has managed the pandemic.
With a population of over 13 million people, Rwanda has so far registered 25,225 cases of Coronavirus, 23,345 have recovered and just 335 people have succumbed to the virus. This is in relation to 1 million and 316,968 sample tests taken as of the day the race started.
To put it into context, every official, delegate and rider had to undergo saliva PCR test 24 hours before the start of the race and none returned positive results, a reflection that this would be a safe race.
Amid the pandemic, the usually roadside packed cycling fans that have celebrated cycling for 13 years was a relatively quiet race, "but the race has to go on", as rightly put by Rwanda’s King of the Mountain sensation, Mugisha Samuel, during an interview before the start of the race.
Riders will miss the jubilant fans but it won’t photographers from capturing amazing images of cyclers and Rwanda’s beautiful landscapes.
Under the scorching mid-morning sun, at 10 AM Kigali time, the first stage of the coveted race in Africa was waved off by Rwanda’s Sports Minister, Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju, David Lappartient, President of the world governing body of cycling, UCI and the President of Rwanda Cycling Federation (FERWACY) Abdallah Murenzi.
The riders would then cover 115.6 kilometres from the iconic Kigali Arena to Rwamagana town, a relatively flat race with just one mountain to climb shortly after the 40KM mark, which was won by the breakaway leader, Muhammad Nur Aiman Mohd Zariff of Terengganu Cycling Team followed.
Going into the 46KM, three leading men, Suaza, Mohd Zariff, and Teugels started the final circuit before entering Rwamagana town.
By the 57th Kilometer, the leading men had finished the first lap of Rwamagana, 2 minutes and 50 seconds ahead of the regrouped peloton before the gap stabilized to 2 minutes going into the final 40 minutes of the race, still with Bernardo Suaza, a Colombian rider, in the solo lead.
The gap between the leading men and the peloton went under a minute (53 ’’) on the 88KM, and there was already a feeling that we would see a sprint photo finish of the first stage.
By the end of the 6th lap, out of 9, the peloton was just 15 seconds behind from the leading two men who were later joined by the third man at the 95th Kilometer.
At the 100KM mark, three riders namely, Hivert (B&B Hotels), Roldan (Medellin) and Marchand (Tarteletto), again broke away from the peloton leaving a gap of 15 seconds between them and the peloton.
With 10 kilometres left to the end of the stage race, a group of 8 riders broke away from the peloton, they included, Sanchez (Medellin), Boileau (B&B Hotels), Umba (Androni), Weldemichael (Eritrea), Goeman (Tarteletto), Gaillard (Total Direct Energie), Kagimu ( Bike Aid), Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation).
Going for the final lap, the adrenaline was high among the small crowd of officials and delegates as the photo finish was highly expected.
Colombian rider, Sanchez Vergara Brayan Stiven, of Team Medellin spirited sprint-supported by his teammate Roldan Ortiz Weimar Alfonso (who finished 3rd)-beat his closet opponent to the finish line to win Stage 1 of the 13th edition of Tour du Rwanda.
Alex Hoehn of Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling team finished second.
Will Team Eritrea defend their 2020 Yellow Jersey? Team member, Tomas Goytom said, "I don’t know. I can’t predict now because we did not have enough training and did not have any race in a year, in our country, because of the pandemic. but we will try our best"
- 1. Brayan Sánchez ( Team Medellín) 2h33’43" - Stage Winner (Yellow Jersey)
- 2. Muhammad Nur Aiman Mohd Zariff (Terengganu Cycling Team) - King of Mountains jersey
- 3. Berna Suaza Arango (Team Medellín)-Sprint Jersey
- 4.Santiago Umba (Androni Sidermec) - Best U-23
- 5. Gustav Basson (ProTouch ProCycling) -Best placed African
- 6. Androni Sidermec - Best Team