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). 2014 was the first year to see an African win, with
Natnael Berhane riding a smart race and taking
off Luisle Sanchez on the final stage.
2015 saw the 10th edition of the race;
Rafaâ Chtioui rode away on stage 1, and the peloton lost several minutes after being shown the wrong way. With another stage win the next day, Chtioui showed that he wasn't a flash in the pan, and eventually he took the overall win - making
SkyDive Dubai the first non-European team to triumph in Gabon.
Race thread archive: 2015
|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|
|2015|| Rafaâ Chtioui|| SkyDive Dubai|
Last year, the two half-stages caused some confusion: A late flight meant that the TTT was delayed by over two hours, and eventually didn't count for the GC. This year, they've put a very short ITT in its place; but the concept with two half-stages on the same day - and not held in the same city, but separated by a cross-country flight! - continues. Let's hope it works out better this year.
For once, the deep east of Gabon is left out this year. The first three stages are held in another familiar area southeast of the capital Libreville, around Kango, Lambaréné, Mouila and Ndjolé. Then the peloton moves to the north of the country, where Oyem is the focus point of the action. Stage 4 finishes in Cameroon, stage 5 starts at the border triangle of Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea and finishes in Oyem - where the peloton then has to catch a flight to the Libreville area for the evening ITT. The final day sees the traditional finishing stage on a circuit in Libreville.Stage 1: Kango - Lambaréné; 146 km
The profile exaggerates the climbs somewhat; nevertheless, the final 10 km have two short hills (one of them cresting at 1500 m from the line) where an attack could be launched. The first stage is always very lively, and sometimes a race-deciding break gets away here.Stage 2: Fougamou - Mouila; 105 km
Short and flat; this stage is set for a sprint finish.Stage 3: Lambaréné - Ndjolé; 130 km
A classic stage through the rainforest, run five times before (in this or the other direction). The final 30 km are hilly and ideal for attacks, with the final 300 m or so uphill.Stage 4: Oyem - Ambam (CMR); 141 km
A constant up-and-down as the riders make their way to Cameroon, but without big climbs. The final 500 m are uphill, giving puncheurs an opportunity to win.Stage 5: Meyo Kie (3 Frontières) - Oyem; 119 km
Starting at the Meyo Kie border triangle, there aren't many difficulties on the stage. The final in Oyem features an ascent within the final 2 km, so a sprint won't be straightforward.Stage 6: Akanda, Stade de l'Amitié ITT; 4 km
The website doesn't bother with a profile, so we can assume this is pan-flat. There are 7 corners to negotiate - but the very short distance means that time differences should be minimal. I expect the morning stage and mid-day plane transfer to have more of an impact on the ITT result than the course itself.Stage 7: Cap Esterias - Libreville; 132 km
The traditional final - a short run-in followed by 16 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. The same could happen if a team is confident that their sprinter is above the rest of the field and can take the stage home - the previous days should have offered some indication of that.
Only three European teams take part in the 2016 edition where there have been four or five in the past years (and most of them pro teams). This year,
Fortuneo-Vital Concept (who won four stages last year),
Direct Energie (five-time overall winners under their previous names) and
Stradalli-Bike Aid (with a mix of European journeymen and African talents) make up the European contingent. However, the race will see a South American team participate for the first time: New ProConti team
Funvic Soul Cycles-Carrefour (who also bring two European riders).
Last year's winning team
SkyDive Dubai-Al Ahli return, bringing three Europeans (Mancebo, Palini and Santaromita) and three Maghrebians; Rafaâ Chtioui doesn't return to defend his title.
9 African national teams look forward to measuring themselves against this competition.Startlist (PCS) Startlist (CyclingFever) Teams (race website)
Fortuneo-Vital Concept: The Breton team will target stage wins with Yauheni Hutarovich;
Steven Tronet can be expected to follow attacks by GC favourites.
Direct Energie: After a 2015 edition without any victories, this team from the Vendée brings their arguably biggest name Thomas Voeckler to Gabon. It remains to be seen if he'll actually do something or is just getting some training miles; Yohann Gène however will mix it up in the sprints.
SkyDive Dubai-Al Ahli: Took the other teams by surprise with two stages and the overall win last year - but defending champion Chtioui won't be back. Even without him, the team has a great card for the sprints with Andrea Palini; Mancebo, Haddi and Jelloul should get into the GC fight.
Funvic Soul Cycles-Carrefour: The first race as a ProConti team for the Brazilians who've been left out of the Tour de San Luis. They bring their two Spanish riders, Piedra and Urtasun, and four Latin Americans who are relatively unknown to me. Kléber Ramos won a mountain stage in San Luis last year ... but there are no mountains in Gabon.
Stradalli-Bike Aid: European journeymen mentoring African talents. Tour of Rwanda winner Jean-Bosco Nsengimana is one to watch, Meron Teshome is a good rider too. Richard Laizer, the first Tanzanian on a UCI team, will get valuable experience. Damien Garcia, Nikodemus Holler and Joschka Beck are in it for the experience too - that of racing in an exotic country, against quality competition.
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). They bring three riders from the top-5 of the 2015 Tour of Rwanda and Olympic qualifier Janvier Hadi. Underestimate this team at your peril.
Burkina Faso: Rasmane Ouédraogo and Harouna Ilboudo are probably the strongest Burkinabé riders. If things go their way they could become the best of the 'small' African teams.
Cameroon: They'll be super-motivated on stage 4, finishing in their home country. But for Clovis Kamzong, Jérémie Nzeke & co. this race is simply a level too high to aim for a stage win or overall result. They'll be in breakaways.
Ivory Coast: Led by UCI World Cycling Centre alumnus Issiaka Cissé, the Ivorians will still have a hard time against the stronger African nations.
Eritrea: The current powerhouse of African cycling, with several pros plying their trade in Europe. Tesfom Okubamariam, Aron Debretsion and Michael Habtom are their strongest riders in this race ... and they might work for Bike Aid's Meron Teshome if the situation presents itself.
Ethiopia: This country aims to close the gap to their Eritrean neighbours and rivals. Their tactics in the Tour of Rwanda were far from optimal, though, when they seemed focused more on chasing down Eritrean riders than on making the race themselves. Temesgen Buru will be their leader before going to Europe to ride for Burgos-BH.
Gabon: The local heroes. This will be the first edition without Frédéric Obiang; instead, national champion Leris Moukagni, Cédric Tchouta or Geoffroy Ngandamba will carry the hopes of the nation. These hopes shouldn't get too big, though - last year only two of the six Gabonese riders finished. The team's best overall results were 28th places in 2009 and 2011. Maybe the new national coach Abraham Olano can inspire the riders to better that result.
Morocco: Eclipsed by Eritrea in recent years, the Moroccans are nevertheless the second nation in African cycling. Abdelati Saadoune bears the distinction of being the oldest rider in the race (he's 40 years old). Lahsaini, Abelouache, Er-Rafai, Mraouni and Saber are a bit younger and very strong.
Algeria: Algerian cycling has improved heaps and bounds in recent years. Abdelkader Belmokhtar reached the podium last year, but Abdelbaset Hannachi or Azzedine Lagab are just as good.The jerseys
There'll be one jersey less than last year ... but that still leaves us with 11!
GC leader, stage winner, best climber, points, intermediate sprints, best young rider, best African rider, combativity, best Gabonese rider, best African team, best team ... 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. Check this site
to find out what the other jerseys are for.Coverage
No live TV ... but Twitter is your friend. The race website is good too, they have journals with the previous day's action up every morning: Les Gazettes
And TV5Monde will probably show short highlights at some point - which will then make their way to YouTube. Race website Twitter Facebook Les Cyclistes Africaines
- a web archive of all African cyclists, with all their UCI results and even some non-UCI results