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Tales from the travellers – the diary of Team Marco Polo

Marco Polo diary index

Tour du Faso, Cycling race in Africa - Part I

October 31-November 11, 2001

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Team Marco Polo
Photo: © Denis Descamps

The Tour du Faso 2001 (Burkina Faso, Africa) was a very successful race for the Marco Polo Cycling Club. Joost Legtenberg won the first stage, Maarten Tjallingii the second stage and Bram de Waard the first half of the sixth stage. Joost wore the leader's jersey the whole Tour and won the General Classification, this was the fourth stage race that was won by the Marco Polo Cycling Club in 2001!

The Marco Polo Cycling Club also scouted around for some African cycling talents. We hope we will find sponsorship for the 2002 season so we can develop these strong riders here in Europe, given our world wide exposure. On that point this Tour du Faso has been really incredible with publicity all over the world in newspapers, magazines, radio, television (for example Eurosport) and the internet.

The following is team manager Edwin Achterberg's report about the race, and some of the remarkable things that happened during it.

We arrived late in the afternoon on the 28th of October. We immediately found out that we arrived in Africa. Not just because of the hot weather conditions (every day 30 degrees Celsius in the shade!) but also because of the 'African' schedules. If they say that we have to leave at 8:00 in the morning then it might be somewhere between 9:00 and 14:00. It's good that we expected things like this to happen, because that makes it a lot easier to accept.

At the airport we only had to wait for about two hours and than the organisation picked us up. We had to go on a big bus with two other teams and all our luggage. We passed the helpers our luggage and they put it on the bus. After that we wanted to go on the bus too, but the problem now was that there wasn't enough room for us to get on the bus because these guys put all our luggage on the 'walking path'.

 
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Maarten Tjallingii gives an interview
Photo: © Denis Descamps

After re-packing we could finally go on the bus and they transported us to our hotel where we could spend all our nights in Ouagadougou. This hotel, named Don Camillo, was situated in some of the outermost parts of Ouaga, but the rooms were perfect. They all had two or three beds, a toilet and a shower and the rooms were all air-conditioned.

The food was much better than we expected but that was due to a French caterer who took care of all our meals. Outside the hotels we almost had to run to get rid of all the people there who wanted to sell us all kinds of tourist things. They would walk with you for miles and they kept talking to you even if you ignored them completely. But at the end of the race they got satisfied because then everyone started to buy local products to bring back home as presents. The most popular products were necklaces, drums, bronze/wooden statues and some clothing.

Travelling to Burkina Faso was hard, several reservations had to be made and changed because flights were cancelled, even one day before departure! But getting back seemed even harder since the airline we came with (Sabena) went bankrupt. But our travel agent (Ulysses Tours, Belgium) solved this problem and sent new tickets to return, someone who travelled to Burkina Faso later, delivered them personally.

The 2nd day we went training early in the morning at about 8:00, because of the nice temperature at that time. With Stan (Dutch Marco Polo member who lives in Burkina Faso) and Petra (soigneur) I did some shopping at a local market place because we needed a lot of food for during the race. We also bought an ice-box to be able to cool the drinks during the race. In the afternoon we went training again, but in the city it's hard to go cycling with all the dust. The country is almost like a big tennis court because of all the red gravel/sand/dust.

On the 3rd day we had to leave the hotel at 8:00 in the morning because that day we had a transfer of 365 km to Bobo Dioulasso where the start of the first stage would be. Finally we left at 13:30 (!) after several hours waiting near the soccer stadium. It took us the whole day to get to Bobo but the roads were much better than we expected.

During the race all the riders had their bad moments but luckily for us everyone got sick at the 'right' moments, during the easiest stages so it didn't really influence our results. Maybe the conditions were even to our advantage because most of our riders are experienced in racing at other continents so we knew what to expect. With the climate there, the tent camps and the unusual food, it's really hard not to get diarrhoea. But we all ended up to be healthy at the end of the event.

During the rest day we went to a small village somewhere in the bush near Ouahigouya. It was a 45 minute drive over dirt road. We went there because Bram de Waard's hometown has a charity project there. When we arrived, the friendly people of the village showed us around and told us about their way of living. It was like we had been travelling with a time machine. Like we went 100 years back in time. They didn't even have plastic bottles. Later we were invited to meet the king of the region and he gave us a nice present, a chicken, alive! As you can imagine, we had a great time there.
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Joost Legtenberg with his teammates
Photo: © Denis Descamps

After the 8th stage (Koupela - Fada N'Gourma), Joost, Bram and I went to visit the party in the village. This party already started at 19:00 and it lasted until 4:00 next morning. We went there from 19:00 - 20:30 and surprisingly it was loaded with people. We expected to see a few 100 people but there were a few thousand! We finally got on the stage and were overwhelmed by the culture and habits of the Africans, their dancing and singing was really great.

Of course we went back to our tents early to get some sleep because the next day we had another stage. Here again we learned not to bring presents or bring enough presents for everyone because the people really start fighting for everything. The organisers now and than dropped some plastic bags in the crowd and big fights started immediately. That wasn't a nice experience.

It was hard to communicate with the team home base. One time we were lucky that we found an internet café, too bad that the owner forgot the password.

The great results in the General Classification, Joost Legtenberg first, Maarten Tjallingii third and Nathan Dahlberg fourth were mainly due to the good teamwork. The Marco Polo riders stayed together and chased groups down if they missed them. In this way they were always there when important time was gained. Too bad for Bram de Waard he got a time penalty of 10 minutes in the last stage, that cost him the fourth place in the G.C.

We would like to thank the Sociètè du Tour de France and the Burkinese organisers for the good organisation of the event.

Yours,
Edwin Achterberg, Team manager

For more information about the Marco Polo Cycling Club in the Tour du Faso and results you can visit: www.worldwidecycling.com/burkinafaso.htm . Also see Cyclingnews.com's coverage of the Tour du Faso, and Denis Descamps' Faso Diary.