REPORTAGE. Three days from the finish, there are still five riders from the Gabon team. A performance for a team without competition since January 2020.
By our special correspondent in Lambarene (Gabon), Gautier Demouveaux
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Lhe fourth stage of this Tour of Gabon 2023 was the longest, 193 kilometers between Mouila and Lambaréné. And for the first time in this edition, it was not a bunch sprint that ended the day on the banks of the Ogooué but a duel between two men, who broke away 50 kilometers from the finish: the Eritrean Teshome Hagos and the Algerian Azzedine Lagab. They managed to keep about twenty seconds on the peloton before deciding between the strength of the calves. We had to resort to the photo-finish, but it was Lagab who won, putting an end to the supremacy of the professional team Total Energies, who had won the first three stages. At 37, the Algerian is the African runner to have won the most races on the continent. But he had never raised his arms in Gabon, after eight appearances. On the side of the general classification no change, Jason Tesson, the sprinter of the French formation, keeps the yellow jersey of leader.
During this long stage, we feared to see one drop out, especially for the riders of the Gabonese team, confined to the back of the peloton and often dropped in recent days. Against all expectations, the Panthers of Gabon were still at the heart of the peloton a few kilometers from the finish. Earlier in the day, some of them, like Glenne Moulingui, even tried to slip into a breakaway.
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An eventful preparation
Before the departure on Monday, the public and the national media were feverish. It must be said that the performance of the Panthers on the Tropicale has always been disappointing. And that was without counting the incredible preparation course in Calpe in Spain, at the beginning of December, which made the headlines here in Gabon. “We arrived there with defective bikes, impossible to train properly in these conditions, explains Glenne Moulingui. Over 40 days of training, we waited more than two weeks for the situation to unblock, without being able to drive. »
Their coach Abraham Olano threatened to give up if the problem was not resolved quickly. He also took the opportunity to claim his salary arrears from previous years. Enough to panic part of the Gabonese press, which criticized the former Spanish world champion for having collected 30 million CFA francs (nearly 46,000 euros) before resigning and leaving his foals to graze on Hispanic land. , morale in the socks. Worse, the subsidy of 67 million CFA (more than 102,000 euros) allocated by the Ministry of Sports to the Gabonese cycling federation would have disappeared. The ministry and the Fegacy passed the buck, without us knowing the end of the story… And during this time, the poor runners took their troubles patiently, apprehensive of returning home to compete in their national tour .
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A recurrent issue
Finally, the former Spanish world champion was there at the start of the Tropicale to supervise his riders. The race announcer nevertheless specified that Olano had not hit the cash register. In short, in these conditions, we can say that it is a feat if five of the six riders entered are still in the race. Especially since the athletes have not participated in a single competition for three years.
“No other race is organized in Gabon, apart from the Tropicale, even the national championship has not taken place for years! laments Charles Anguilet, bib number 1 on the Tour of Gabon. How to be competitive in these conditions? “It’s complicated mentally, only our love of cycling keeps us going, admits Glenne Moulingui. Without the support of our family and the Gabonese public, we would not even have taken the start… Moreover, the professional runners come to salute our courage, especially when they know that we have not raced since the last Tropicale, in January 2020.” However, there are no secrets, on a bike, to progress, you have to take part in competitions, explains Abraham Olano: “All I know is that the money from the grant n never happened to the federation, and without money, nothing can be done. We will not be able to go racing in the Tour of Cameroon, not to mention other races in Africa. What can be the motivation of a Gabonese runner if there is only the Tropicale in his calendar? He only runs for a week and then nothing for a year? Under these conditions, the Gabonese will never be able to progress and distinguish themselves on their national tour…”
After four stages, the best of the Gabonese, Glenne Moulingui, is 73e place, more than 23 minutes behind the leader. As for the Spanish coach, he decided to continue the adventure despite everything, to help these kids he took a liking to. He has already concocted a racing program for his proteges and even helped find sponsors to support the national team. It remains to be seen if the sports authorities will follow, or if Gabonese cycling will remain in its current slump…
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