In Tokyo, on Saturday 24 July, there will be 11 African runners from the 130 competitors, representing 7 different nations, to take part in the Olympic road race, such as Burkinabè Paul Domont or the Algerian Hamza Mansouri. But on a very demanding course where the competition will be tough, we should not expect miracles from them.
The presence of African cyclists at the Tokyo Olympics proves once again that the continent also loves cycling, sometimes built as a national sport, as in Eritrea. But the challenge promises to be once again very complicated.
Aging in Europe
“If you have not done the Tour de France, it is impossible to perform. It will already be good to finish the race, warns Jean-Jacques Henry, trainer at the World Cycling Center of the International Cycling Union (UCI). Paul Domont, if he manages to do 180 kilometers (a total of 234 kilometers) it will already be pretty good. It has potential, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The African Championship (which allows the qualification of a country, ed. Note) has nothing to do with the World Tour level (first international division, ed. Note). But at the games, all continents must be represented, just like at the World Cup. Sportingly, to be on the level, it would be necessary to do more competitions in Europe for young Africans. And then it was Covid who broke the dynamic, because they did not have access to the competitions. It will still be a fantastic experience for those who will be in the Olympic peloton ”.
For several years, African riders have found a place in continental teams (second division) or World Tour (first division), such as Eritrean Merhawi Kudus (Astana), who will have trouble getting into Tokyo earlier, while not participating in the big loop. As Jean-Jacques Henry points out, “the top forty at the table in Tokyo will all have done the Tour de France, that’s for sure”. A bit like in Rio 2016, where South African Louis Meintjes took a very good seventh place when he finished in 8th place in the general classification of the Tour de France.
The creation of a training center in West Africa
This does not prevent the African continent from developing in terms of cycling. Although the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down the power of very good young runners, such as the Rwandan Jean Eric Habimana. “Revived by pioneers, kept alive by enthusiasts, African cycling has so far only won the right to survive. Today, he strives to live simply “, writes the journalist Frédéric Gassmann in a work he devotes to the little queen of the African continent *.
“The equipment has really changed since 1998 and my first cover of the Tour of Burkina Faso,” says Frédéric Gassmann. Countries and leaders have realized that there is more than just football in life, and cycling deserves the means to continue to grow. We can highlight the donations from the UCI who want to develop cycling and create a fitness center in West Africa (like Potchefstroom in South Africa, ed.). Cycling is a profession that you can learn. The three UCI races on the continent (Tour of Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Tropical Amissa Bongo in Gabon, the editor’s note) still allowed the riders to rub their shoulders and observe the European riders. In 2020, nothing happened because of coronavirus pandemic, we must compensate for the lost time ”.
Frédéric Gassmann emphasizes: “I appreciated the courage of all these riders who try to create a level playing field with European riders during their national tour and who resist the pressure from their team and the local public. I’m optimistic about the future. It will be a World Cup 2025 on the African continent and it will be a big spotlight. “
Nicholas Dlamani, first black rider from South Africa in the Tour de France
During the recent Tour de France, Nicholas dlamani, the first black driver from South Africa to start on French roads, fell during the stage that took the peloton to Tignes. The former child from Cape Town, who will be in Japan, had wanted to reach the finish line at all costs. Arrived on time in gray and cold, at an altitude of more than 2000 meters, one hour and 24 minutes after today’s winner, far from the deadlines at 37’20 “, the driver of the Qhubeka-Assos formation will not start again the following day, explained of the course of the marshal jury. “The support from the fans has been incredible from the beginning. This is also one of the reasons why I really wanted to finish the race today. I wanted to honor this race. and my team, “he admitted.
In 2015, the Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot was the first black African driver to compete in the Tour de France since the competition was created in 1903. He was also the first to wear the best climbing tunic in four stages. Six years after his exploits, Teklehaimanot is no longer in the peloton; in Tokyo, others will be on their bikes to continue to pave the way for African cycling.
* African cycling, by Frédéric Gassmann (Amalthée editions)