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Tour de Lunsar | Oskar Scarsbrook

CYCLING IN SIERRA LEONE


Last year, we began supporting grassroots cycling in West Africa at the Tour de Lunsar in Sierra Leone. Le Col produced the 2019 winners’ jerseys for men, women and junior men, plus a limited-edition jersey that we made available to buy to supporters around the world.

A chunk of the funds raised through those sales went towards the 2020 race, but sadly due to the COVID-19 world pandemic, the 2020 Tour de Lunsar was postponed. The race was due to have taken place from the 17-19 of April.

 

An amazing byproduct of our collaboration with the Tour de Lunsar, was the opportunity to also supply a full, official kit to the Sierra Leone national cycling team. It was worn for the first time in November 2019 when the team competed at the Tour de Guinée. There has never been a professionally produced national team kit before in the history of cycling in Sierra Leone.

 

Instead of bringing you news of yet another cancellation, we wanted to shine a light on the lives of some of those riders who participated in the Tour de Guinée, and how the pandemic is affecting them.

 

We spoke to Suleiman Bah, Tenesie Dixon and Ibrahim Jalloh, three of the members of the national squad and we also checked in with Ben Conteh, who is the senior rider and road captain of the Lunsar Cycling Team.

 

For riders like Jalloh and Dixon, the cancellation of the Tour de Lunsar has hit hard. This year’s event had extended to three days and would be the longest race on the Sierra Leone cycling calendar.

 


The pull of the event and using it as a motivation to train and develop is a big reason the race is so popular. As national rider Tenesie Dixon explains: “Having heard that the race has been cancelled now, it is a very sad one for us because this should be the very first big competition in the year 2020 and everyone, every cyclist was like ‘Wow, I really want to be part of this’. Everyone was really getting prepared. Teams and other individuals, we were really prepared for this event.”

 

“I have been training for a while for a race that has been cancelled. It is ever so disappointing,” adds Jalloh.

 

As a senior rider and captain in the Lunsar team, Ben Conteh even had social media strategies in place to try and outfox the opposition: “As for me, I told my boys not to post [on social media] because we have to race against other teams, so we don’t need to post while training because that way we leak our secrets.”

 


Sierra Leone, like many countries, has declared a national emergency in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Julius Maada Bio has banned all gatherings but there is still hope for the Lunsar riders as they can still get out and train between the hours of 7am and 7pm.

 

For riders like Jalloh, Bah and Dixon, regular training for an event is a huge part of why they cycle. As Jalloh explains: “When you train and race you see if you are improving. As I fear, we continue to train without any race, that is not good for us.”

 

Tenesie Dixon is especially concerned for riders who do not have the means to ride indoors on a turbo trainer. Through donations, some of the riders of the Lunsar Cycling Team have been learning to train indoors but Dixon worries that the cancellation of the Tour de Lunsar could be the catalyst for a step backwards in Sierra Leone cycling.

 


“For some of the other guys they are using indoor trainers to train, but I believe the majority of the cyclists here in Sierra Leone do not have such a facility. It’s really a step backward for them because how are they going to be training without such a facility? Some of them find it very difficult to go alone for training but when we are together, we feel more motivated and you have more courage to push on.”

 

Although this has been a huge blow to cycling in Sierra Leone, the work put it in by dedicated local riders and opportunities created through sponsorship and kit donations, have helped to boost the profile of the team.

 


“Every cyclist is proud now to be a cyclist in the entire country. We are really glad we now have a team jersey from an international company. Every cyclist appreciates that. We used that jersey at the Tour de Guinée. It was really amazing. Some of the journalists, they come and watch and ask questions about our jersey,” says Bah.

 

So, there’s hope to be found even in this current situation for racing in Sierra Leone and as Bah says “We are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.” The future is bright for these riders and their team and the dream remains the same, grow the profile of the Tour de Lunsar and get the UCI to stand up and notice.

 


Tenesie Dixon’s dream remains solid. “Tour de Lunsar is something that everybody will want to be part of because if you look at the involvement it is very fun. I believe that this Tour will definitely reach the UCI standard and it will help to showcase talented young people in Sierra Leone cycling.”

 

Jalloh has also noticed how the race has grown: “Tour de Lunsar is the biggest race in the country. We are seeing different spectators coming international to watch this race,” he says.

 

Sierra Leone is quietly becoming a huge voice in West African cycling and the Lunsar Cycling Team is certainly helping to grow it. It is not lost on the riders that competition breeds a rider to train harder, race faster and in turn develop as a cyclist though.

 

 

Suleiman Bah – a rider from Lunsar’s big rival, C2C Team – wants to see this healthy competition act as a catalyst for other athletes to join the sport.

 

As Bah says, “More clubs will elevate cycling in the entire country. That is the dream of every cyclist.”

 

The road to a brighter future for West African cycling does not come without its bumps in the road but as Sierra Leone unites with us all in light of a worldwide pandemic, there is still the certainty that cycle racing will return to Lunsar.

 

To keep up to date with cycling in Sierra Leone, the Tour de Lunsar and the Lunsar Cycling Team, make sure to check out their website and follow the team on Instagram and Twitter.