Supporting African Riders in the World Tour

An Interview with Aike Visbeek (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty)

Here at the 2023 Tour de France in the SW corner of France, we caught up with Aike Visbeek, the Performance Manager of the Intermarche-Circus-Wanty World Tour team discussing how they are now the leading team when it comes to supporting African riders. Intermarche-Circus-Wanty has two riders taking part in the Tour de France. Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay who is making his debut in the race. And Louis Meintjes, a long-term top level professional cyclist who is also the most successful African rider at the Tour de France.

We asked Aike about the extra attention the team are getting due to these star riders:

Video Transcript:

I think it is good because we have invested a lot of time and energy in helping these riders and creating the infrastructure and back-up they need to get to the races and get prepared. So it is nice when you get that recognition and i think this is what shows here today [a lot of attention on the team] and I hope we can show with these guys a good Tour de France. We did it with Louis last year already and I think we are in a nice position. We are not [one of] the big budget teams, but with hard work you can help these guys get on this stage and it is nice that we get the recognition for that.

Team Africa Rising asked Aike if there are specific challenges that come with having African riders on the team. He went into detail on the key issue that still causes issues for the riders we know from Africa who are trying to get into the World Tour or Pro Continental teams: visas….

Video transcript:

“It complicates things. We are now in a situation in cycling where riders prepare themselves in the smallest details very carefully, but these guys have a disadvantage. Some riders lose a week when they have to sit in an embassy in a city where they cannot train. That is the difference. We are never sure that we have good preparation because in a bad case scenario we have to send Biniam somewhere where he sits in a hotel for three days and then we hope that we get a visa.”

Aike went on to say that this is a ‘worst case scenario’ situation. Recently, they haven’t had many issues, but they prepare better and have a dedicated member of staff now to help on this and, importantly to ensure Biniam is not stressing about it. He said that this is overshadowed by the real joy he and the team have in working with the African riders as they bring a unique vibe to the team.

Eritrean Fans

We finally spoke about the incredible support of the Eritrean fans, who, at many recent races have arrived in large numbers and made a real impact on the atmosphere of the race. Aike agreed and said it’s a wonderful thing to see. He called it: “It is a different kind of happiness, it brings something really extra to the event.”

He did, however ask that the fans understand that after a race, Biniam needs to recover quickly. Sometimes he has to get on the bus or back to the hotel quickly, and this might disappoint them. He shared that Biniam has been saying to fans: “Everyone come to Paris! We will see you guys there and we will make a party!”

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