Once again, it's time for the highest-ranked African race. The petrodollars of
Gabon have helped set up this race, named for the daughter of late president Omar Bongo (and sister of current president Ali Bongo Ondimba).
Started in 2006, the first 8 editions have been won by European riders. The inaugural Tropicale saw
Jussi Veikkanen of
Française des Jeux triumph, the next 7 editions were won by
Frenchmen (Anthony Charteau alone winning three in a row). Last year was the first to see an African win, with
Natnael Berhane riding a smart race and taking
off Luisle Sanchez on the final stage. Even so, two French teams have won all 9 races: FDJ and Europcar (once in its former guise of Bbox Bouygues Télécom).
Race thread archive: 2014
|year|| winner|| team|
|2006|| Jussi Veikkanen|| Française des Jeux|
|2007|| Frédéric Guesdon|| Française des Jeux|
|2008|| Lilian Jégou|| Française des Jeux|
|2009|| Mathieu Ladagnous|| Française des Jeux|
|2010|| Anthony Charteau|| Bbox Bouygues Télécom|
|2011|| Anthony Charteau|| Team Europcar|
|2012|| Anthony Charteau|| Team Europcar|
|2013|| Yohann Gène|| Team Europcar|
|2014|| Natnael Berhane|| Team Europcar|
For the first time, the race will span over 8 stages in 7 days (with two half-stages on Saturday). Also for the first time, there will be a TTT, held in Port-Gentil - the petro capital of Gabon with an oil refinery and a port. There's also a road stage held there, if you were in any doubt about what fuels this race.
The race traditionally starts with a couple of stages in the country's interior. This year, it kicks off in Bongoville (yes, it's named for the presidential family). After three stages, the whole caravan moves west for two stages around Lambaréné, and then to Port-Gentil. The final day sees a stage through the country's capital Libreville. Normally the GC was settled by then, but last year the yellow jersey changed hands.Stage 1: Bongoville - Moanda; 100 km
The first stage is always nervous, and with 4 hills within 20 km in the middle of the stage, this could put many riders out of GC contention already - it's customary that a strong break gets away on stage 1 and stays away by minutes.Stage 2: Okondja - Franceville; 170 km
The longest stage of the race. Never flat, and with a kick in the final.Stage 3: Mounana - Koulamoutou; 157 km
Two relatively hard climbs in the first half of the stage will split the peloton. The queen stage.Stage 4: Ndjolé - Lambaréné; 133 km
A classical stage through the rainforest, run four times before (in this or the other direction). The hilly start favours a breakaway, and there's a short kick just 1 km from the line.Stage 5: Lambaréné - Kango; 143 km
Mostly flat, one for the sprinters. Yohann Gène has won this stage three times already, and will want to add a fourth. An early start at 8 am, followed by a transfer to Port-Gentil.Stage 6: Port-Gentil TTT; 8.75 km
An evening TTT is an innovation for this race. While not the first-ever TTT on African soil as claimed on the race website (that was the Mzansi Tour prologue-TTT last year), it's something different. The circuit in Port-Gentil will probably favour the strong (mostly European) teams even more.Stage 7: Port-Gentil; 127 km
12 laps on almost the same parcours as the TTT. Flat as a pancake.Stage 8: Cap Esterias - Libreville; 127 km
The traditional final - a short run-in followed by 15 laps of a city-centre circuit. The circuit isn't flat, and a breakaway has taken the stage three times before (2010, 2011, 2013) - but it will depend on how the race has unfolded until then: If the GC is decided, a harmless break may get the green light; if the GC is tight and teams chase bonus seconds, they might shut everything down.
Five European teams, and one from the Near East, travel to Gabon, and will face competition from 9 African national teams.
Europcar: The favourites, having won the race the last five years. Defending champion Berhane has moved on to MTN-Qhubeka (who are missing from the line-up), but Gène, Craven & co. will take up the challenge.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Picked up 4 stage wins last year courtesy of Baugniès, Jans and Robert (twice). Baugniès and Robert return this year and will look for more sprint success.
Bretagne-Séché Environnement: First-time participants, they bring a balanced roster including perennial Belarussian champion Hutarovich and British talent Dan McLay, who'll probably be the team's protected riders.
SkyDive Dubai: Once a GC competitor, Mancebo is now riding for this somewhat obscure team. A mix of Europeans and Arabs; Chtioui, Haddi, Hasnaoui and Jelloul are among the best cyclists on the African circuit, so the team isn't only about Mancebo.
Bike Aid: European journeymen mentoring African talents. Debesay (2014 Africa Tour winner) and Amanuel are good riders indeed, and Bichlmann, de Jonge or Schweizer will try for the sprints.
Roth-Skoda: The Swiss-Italian farm team of Lampre-Merida will support Alberto Cecchin.
Gabon: The local heroes. Obiang (the only rider to have participated in all editions of the race) and Moukagni are the biggest names, while Tchouta and current national champion Ngandamba are up-and-coming talents. It's all relative, though - a stage top-20 can be considered a big success for this team.
Eritrea: The powerhouse of African cycling currently, with several pros plying their trade in Europe. Eyob, Teshome and Okubamariam are the biggest names on this team - but who knows, maybe we'll all be talking of 19-year old Merhawi Goitom in a week's time?
Morocco: Eclipsed by Eritrea in recent years, the Moroccans are nevertheless the second nation in African cycling. Lahsaini, Abelouache and Mraouni will probably decide the team leadership amongst themselves on the road.
Rwanda: African cycling's feel-good story, emerging from the 1994 genocide to establish a cycling team (with support from US ex-pro Jock Boyer). Tour of Rwanda winner Ndayisenga, Biziyaremye, Byukusenge, Hadi, Nsengimana, Uwiyezimana - each of these riders can win races. They will probably not win anything in Gabon (it's simply too flat for their liking), but they will sure as hell try.
Algeria: Traditionally not quite as strong as their Maghrebi rivals, Algerian cycling has improved heaps and bounds in recent years. Lagab, Barbari, Chabane and Belmokhtar could all get a GC top-10 - or more ...
South Africa: The strongest South African riders are preparing for the Euro season with MTN-Qhubeka, but this selection of mostly young riders shouldn't be underestimated. Jayde Julius finished on the podium in the country's national championships last week, HB Kruger was fifth. Nolan Hoffman is a household name on the track and wins about 95% of all sprints in domestic races, it will be interesting to see him compete with European sprinters.
Ivory Coast: Better than the Gabonese team - Cissé, Fofana, Konté and Ouattara have UCI points -, they still won't see any success coming their way in this race.
Cameroon: Probably halfway between Gabon and Ivory Coast. Going to be in breaks that amount to nothing.
Burkina Faso: Ouédraogo and Nikiéma will be the strongest Burkinabé riders. If things go their way they could become the best of the 'small' African teams.The jerseys
There are many classification jerseys. 12, in fact: GC leader, best climber, intermediate sprints, points, best African team, best Gabonese rider, Gabonese escape, best young rider, stage winner ... you name it. No idea how they get that by the UCI, but they do. No idea which jerseys are podium-only, and which actually get worn in-race. Most important, no doubt, is the yellow GC jersey. Coverage
No live TV ... but Twitter is your friend. The race website is good too, they had journals with the previous day's action up every morning last year. And TV5Monde (or whatever they're called) will probably show short highlights at some point.Race websiteTwitterFacebook