The Tour du Faso, a 10-day bicycle race through the conflict-stricken West African country of Burkina Faso, began in the southern city of Banfora on October 29. One Burkinabe rider hopes to build on his Summer Olympics performance and secure victory despite security concerns.
Paul Daumont is one of eighty cyclists taking part in this year’s Tour du Faso, Burkina Faso’s answer to the world-famous Tour de France bicycle race.
Since October 29, cyclists have pedaled their way across the country, with a new stage each day.
Daumont is back from the Olympics in Tokyo and hopes to improve on his performance in his home country.
He says breaking into cycling was tough, but at just 22, it has already taken him all over the world, from Japan to Switzerland.
“You could say that cycling, whether in Burkina Faso or in the rest of the world, is a sport that is difficult to get into, because you need a machine and the machines are relatively expensive. You have to be lucky enough to already have a bike — or someone who can lend one to you to get started,” Daumont said.
He says that the cycling federation in Burkina Faso helped him with a road racing bike after he showed potential, but you need a good bike to get to that level in the first place.
Despite difficulties with access, the sport of cycling is becoming more popular in Africa, and the Union Cycliste Internationale’s annual Africa tour takes in 11 countries, including Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso is in the midst of a six-year conflict involving terror groups linked to the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and local bandits, and security has deteriorated in recent months.
The organizers and participants at this year’s event, however, were pushing ahead, and the atmosphere was festive.
When asked about security, one of the organizers said it was a concern.
“Yeah. Sure. It’s one of the big difficulties for us, because of course when we have, for example, European countries. We are not all the time sure, but we have a big organization. We have the military with us; we have to police with us,” Bezault said.
Contenders from Europe say they are not worried about security.
“Oh, I don’t feel unsafe at all. I think everyone is very friendly and, yeah, like I said, I haven’t felt unsafe at all. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Betten said.
Local riders say they are enjoying the cosmopolitan nature of the event but have their eyes on the prize.
“I thank the foreigners who came, and I also thank the cyclists, the runners from Burkina Faso. May God give us the yellow jersey,” Sorgho said.
Meanwhile, Daumont has already placed in the top 10 in the first two stages of the Tour du Faso, which will reach its conclusion on Sunday.