Importance of La Tropicale to African Cycling

The last time La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, the longest-running UCI 2.1 race on the African continent, was held was in 2020. The last stage raced was on January 26th, right before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The African continent was hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic.

On January 26, 2020, Natnael Tesfatsion from Eritrea slipped out of 1st place in the General Classification. He finished a crushing one second behind a French cyclist, Jordan Levasseur. Jordan now races for a club team in France. Natnael started 2023 with World Tour Team, Trek-Segafrado. He became the first Eritrean to race Australia’s Tour Down Under and finished a mind-blowing 14th in the GC. 

Cultivating Future Talent for European Teams

The Tropicale’s influence on African cycling cannot be discounted. This race launches African cyclists onto the world stage. Jean Rene Bernaudeau, is a French former professional cyclist who raced in the same era as Team Africa Rising’s founder, Jock Boyer. Bernaudeau is the General Manager of now, Team TotalEnergies, previously known as Europcar.

A French club team also founded by Bernaudau, Vendée-U, operates as a feeder/development team for Team TotalEnergies. This team has seen 88 cyclists turn professional through its operation. Jean Rene’s influential link with La Tropicale has launched the careers of African talent such as Natnael Berhane (Eritrea) and Bonaventure Uwizeyimana (Rwanda). 

Professional teams keep an eye on the performances and results of African cyclists as this race is generally their first foray of the year into racing against European riders. Europeans use La Tropicale as their warm-up race for the season. It also enables them to put early points on the UCI rankings.

The additional talent coming out of La Tropicale includes Henok Mulubrhan and Metkel Eyob (Eritrea). Joseph Areruya signed with the UCI Pro Continental Team Delko Marseille moving up from Team Dimension Data Continental Team after his 2018 La Tropicale win. That was the last time Rwanda placed that high in the results.

2023 Race Statistics

The 2023 Tropicale proved to be the exciting return to the UCI calendar all of us in African cycling hoped it to be. This Tropicale was the fastest on record, with an average speed of 44,471km/hr. The second fastest was in 2019, 43,448km/hr, a whole kilometer+ per hour slower than this year’s new record. Stage 3, 123km, was an eye-popping 49,989km/hr, which is a World Tour event speed.

This year there were 63 riders from the African continent. Two of the top ten youngest riders come from Benin, with Glorad Saizonou, the youngest at 18 years 177 days. Also with two youngest riders in the Top 10 are Algeria and Eritrea. Algeria’s Hamza Amari (20 years 113 days) races for Team Q36.5 Continental this season. He finished second in the GC and took the Best Young Rider Classification.

Team Africa Rising looks at the youngest rider classification as a sign of the health of a country’s development program. The 2023 results show Algeria, Benin, and Eritrea all focused on cycling development. Algeria and Eritrea have a healthy mix of veteran talent like Algeria’s Azzedine Lagab and newcomer Hamza Amari. Eritrea is similar with Meron Teshome, taking second to Lagab in Stage 4, and newcomer Aklilu Arefayne, racing for Circus-ReUz-Technord this season, the feeder team for Intermarché Circus Wanty, home of Biniam Girmay and Louis Meintjes.

African Countries – Highlights

Mauritius continues its rise up the Africa Tour rankings and made its mark in this year’s Tropicale. Christopher Rougier-Lagane, a 24-year-old from Mauritius, became the first Mauritian to secure a Top 3 GC position in the history of the race. These points will put some distance between Mauritius (5th in Africa Tour) and their closest competitor on the Africa Tour (Rwanda 6th).

A nice bright spot for the generally lackluster team from Gabon was Glenn Morgan Moulingue’s 12th-place finish on Stage 6. This is the highest stage ranking since 2006 for Gabon!

Notable Transitions

The war in Ethiopia has taken a toll on Ethiopian cyclists’ development. With the exception of Kiya Rogora racing for Team EF Education Nippo Development Team with a 22nd placing on the GC, these cyclists continue to be affected by the war in Tigray. It may take years, or even decades, for cycling to recover from this horrific event in Ethiopia. The best cyclists in Ethiopia are primarily from the Tigray region.

Interestingly, a very active Rwandan cycling fan – Aime Moise Muhoza – posted a tweet after yesterday’s finale summing up Rwanda’s lacklustre performance at the Tropicale:

Team Africa Rising no longer works in Rwanda per the Federation’s request. In a 2022 Africa Tour Assessment conducted by Team Africa Rising, we sadly noted Rwanda’s precarious position on the UCI Africa Tour rankings, currently sitting 6th in Elite and 5th in U23. They recently hired a new coach from France, will this be the turnaround they are looking for?

Tropicale’s Place in History

This year’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo proved to be an exciting start to a promising 2023 for African cyclists. The race upped its game, providing a steady stream of Live Tweeting along with daily video highlights, essentially bringing a race in Gabon to the world. The importance of this event to African cycling development cannot be minimized. It is great to have it back on the UCI calendar.

La Tropicale spurred the launch of the Tour of Rwanda back in 2009 under the leadership of the late Minister of Sport, Joseph Habineza. It continues to inspire other nations like Mauritania, hosting its Tour of Sahel from February 1-5th and Tour of Benin from May 2-7th. This week there were 63 African cyclists racing in Gabon. There are another 29 racing at the Tour of Sharjah in UAE, two at the World Tour Event, Saudi Tour, and an unconfirmed number at the Tour of Sahel this week in Mauritania. African cycling is most definitely on the rise!

Thanks to Pro Cycling Stats for all the data.