Tales from the travellers – the diary of Team Marco Polo

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Tour du Faso, Cycling race in Africa - Part II

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 race diary is by Nathan Dahlberg*, road captain of the Marco Polo team and president of the Marco Polo Cycling Club.

"Burking Faso", exclaimed the excited elderly customs man, when I gave the reason for my bike box, and quickly ran off to tell all the other staff the big news. Indeed Tour de Burking Faso has become legendary in cycling mad Belgium, France and Holland and is easily the most famous non-European Bike Race in the world. I remember watching TV images of a crazy race through this almost unknown West African country before the Tour of Flanders in 1990. Every year since, European riders have headed down to the Tour of Faso. Some to win, more often to succumb to illness, heat (35°-40°), and bad roads. Behind them have followed film crews, anxious to record the suffering of the white man in Africa.

It was of course one of our big aims in the Marco Polo Cycling Club, to get a team to this race, even more so now that the Sociètè Tour de France had taken over. This meant high interest from European TV and sports magazines - a chance for publicity a fledgling organization like ours couldn't pass up.

The one thing about our team of six riders above all was its energy and motivation. We were there to promote ourselves, and win! Even though only Edwin Achterberg, our young doctor come director, (who often comes on our more difficult missions where medical supervision is important) Joost Legtenberg and myself had worked together before, Simon Dona, Bram DeWaard, Maarten Tjallingi and masseur Petra, fitted in perfectly.

During the first four days we set about establishing a complete domination of the race and by the tour's 5th day we had 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th on GC; Teams, Points and young rider's jerseys, plus two stage wins. Almost the only opposition left, was one particularly tenacious Moroccan, Abdelati Saadoune, who proved along with his young team to be our main competition throughout the race. The other Europeans were dropping out of contention (4 French Teams, and 1 Belgium were represented) very quickly, due largely to the difficult conditions.

This was where our experience racing in a huge variety of races world wide was to prove invaluable, as we were only to lose one rider on the very first day, and that was only for personal reasons (his mother was ill in Holland). Both Simon and Tour Leader Joost were really ill during the race, but with team help they made it. Almost no one in the whole race survived unscathed from some sort of stomach upsets; rider or official, despite the fact the race had been sanitized with a French Chef Cook and three trucks of special food following the race.

On occasions we camped out, as Burkina is a very under developed country, although to our surprise hotel accommodation was the norm. Throughout though, both the locals and riders were very friendly and there was a great atmosphere that definitely sets this race apart.

The second part of the race proved much more difficult for us, basically a four man team time trial for seven days across windy hot plains on some of the slowest roads I've ever ridden on, and the subsequent daily exhaustion. With Joost safely tucked behind we controlled the race as you must do when you have the leader and most of the classements in your pocket, and only the redoubtable Adelati really challenged us, and we only managed one more stage win.

For the others the most memorable was Patrice Hemroulle (Belgium) winning the 3rd stage after a 70 km largely solo breakaway and weeping for joy at the finish. Only later did we learn his mother had just passed away the week before. On the third last day the local Burkina riders finally won (and placed second) on a stage, and the Burkinese went into ecstatic party mode with the victory.

Although for our young riders the success and prestige they got at this race were foremost, the thing I appreciated the most was the genial atmosphere, and the highlight was the French riders all cheering for when us our team received their various prizes.

From the rather hurried prize ceremony we rushed to the Airport, and off to Paris and freezing Europe, our big African adventure over. But for me it continued just a little longer as after remaining pretty much 'illness' free for 2 weeks in Deepest Darkest Africa, back in Europe Charka Zulu's revenge finally got me!

*Nathan Dahlberg, president and founder of the Marco Polo Cycling Club, almost finished his season with the Tour du Faso. It was an incredible season, with undoubtedly the most travelling a serious Elite rider has ever done. Sporting highlights, like winning the GC in the Tour of Maroc, were followed by incredible adventures, like travels to Tibet, Mongolia, Malaysia and Burkina Faso.

A 'complete' overview of his season will be the next item on the Marco Polo Tales of the Travellers.

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.