The Tour du Rwanda is well under way with Alan Boileau taking another impressive win on stage three on Tuesday. The B&B Hotels p/b KTM rider outsprinted Carlos Quintero (Terengganu Cycling) and James Piccoli (Israel StartUp Nation) for the victory in Gicumbi.
It has so far been an unusual and enthralling edition of the race for a handful of reasons, not least the lack of huge crowds by the roadside. The Rwandan government and the race organisers have taken every precaution when it comes to COVID-19, and so spectators have been notably absent.
There have been a few other differences and notable trends as well.
Tour du Rwanda
Tour du Rwanda: Who will take victory in Africa's biggest UCI stage race?
Tour du Rwanda : Stage 2 highlights as Boileau claims victory
East African riders struggling
Riders from the nations of Eritrea and Rwanda have struggled so far in the race, particularly those based domestically. Between them, these two nations have won the last seven Tours du Rwanda, so it’s surprising to see so few of their riders in the GC top 10. Joseph Areruya (winner of the 2017 race) withdrew from the race on stage 2 after a crash, while Didier Munyaneza - one of the most talked-about hopes for a home victory this year - abandoned early in stage 3, also after crashing.
Other big-name Rwandan riders continue in the race, but are clearly finding it hard to make an impact. Samuel Mugisha, who rode three seasons on NTT Continental, the development squad part of the NTT WorldTour team between 2017 and 2019, and winner of the 2018 Tour du Rwanda, is now in 47th place.
Of course, a large factor in this is the amount of racing the home-based Rwandans and Eritreans have in the legs relative to riders based in North & South America, Europe or even Malaysia; the best-ranked African rider is Metkel Eyob, an Eritrean riding for Terengganu Cycling. Eyob has 10 days of UCI racing in his legs this year courtesy of his team's two-month block of Turkish racing earlier in the season – far from ideal, but still more than the likes of his compatriot Sirak Tesfom, who only opened his season two days ago and abandoned the race today. If nothing else it's a reminder that although the pandemic has hit all of cycling hard, it has hit African riders yet harder, effectively resulting in a 'lost year' of form and experience.
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Boileau to Le Tour?
After taking two stage wins already, it’s looking like being something of a ‘moment’ for the young French rider of B&B Hotels p/b KTM. It was the 35-year-old Pierre Rolland’s name that drew the eye on the French ProTeam’s roster before the race, not the 21-year-old Boileau’s, but it’s the neo-pro who has garnered all the headlines so far.
Boileau’s victory was the first French win in Tour du Rwanda since 2010, and by winning today he becomes his country’s most prolific rider in the Tour ever. With B&B Hotels getting a wildcard into Le Tour later this summer, it’s never too early to ask if Boileau might be on the sort of form to justify a place.
GC finely poised, Teugels dominating in the breaks
Boileau would be leading the GC now if it were not for an as-yet unaccounted-for time loss on the opening day where he ceded 41 seconds to pretty much every other rider in the race. As a result, we have nine riders all on the same time at the head of GC (there are no time bonuses for stage wins), but Brayan Sanchez (Team Medellin) gets to don the yellow jersey by dint of being the only one of the nine to have won a stage.
Tour du Rwanda: Brayan Sanchez takes Stage 1 in sprint finish
The next two days contain no monster HC climbs, but plenty of challenging uphill riding and lots of lumpy intermediate terrain. There will be plenty of opportunities to lose a few seconds here and there – and don’t be surprised if this week becomes an all-out attritional war between the top squads to wear one another down. We can also expect some hail mary attacks from riders needing to recoup lost seconds.
While the GC is very much still up for grabs with no clear frontrunner, there is one rider absolutely dominating the breakaway competitions thus far, with Lennert Teugels (Tarteletto Isorex) taking a huge haul of points on the categorised climbs today as well as winning both intermediate sprints. Watch out for him getting in the break over the coming days to consolidate his position in the climber’s jersey.
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