Cycling Weekly writer Andy McGrath is at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo stage race in Gabon, Africa
What do you get when you mix two thousand shouting school-children, Gangnam Style on the PA and Africa’s leading cycling race?
Adrenaline-creating roars and chants deafening the riders waiting for the start and sweeping away over the corrugated roofs of the battered bric-a-brac shops at Oyem. People five hundred metres down the road were craning their heads to see.
“European races can learn a lot from this,” Cofidis directeur sportif Alain Deloeuil said to me.
There was a whole stand of schoolchildren dancing and shouting in cyan shirts, roaring and giving the third stage on Wednesday a party-like send off. They’ve got the right idea here in Gabon.
It’s impossible not to smile at. I’ve never been at a depart quite like it – no offence to the stage start in Peebles, Tour of Britain folk.
Things are extremely spaced out in Gabon. Forget creature comforts: there are virtually no supermarkets or road signs showing distances; even the smallest conurbations are every five to ten kilometres apart.
Only the big roads are tarmacked. In towns, dusty clay arteries lead to more dusty clay arteries, cluttered with rubbish, more shacks and shops.
Vegetation is king here and a constant driving companion, with the banana trees and giant canopies. It’s nice to see a wild country; we happened upon some locals mid-yam cutting with their machetes.
Some of the transfers put the Giro to shame though.
After today’s fourth stage, we had a five-hour car transfer south-west to Lambaréné – the riders had their bikes packed into lorries and flew in cargo planes – which included some dusty, rough lakeside roads.
It got so bad that sometimes the car ten metres in front was invisible for all the acrid dust. The hidden gaping potholes made several crunch noises, making me think the car suspension was done or we might be stuck in 35 degrees centigrade heat.
But we made it. A final fun fact of the day to impress your friends with: Lambaréné is the lakeside town where Albert Schweizer worked as a medical missionary and founded his famous hospital.