One could start the story like this: Do you know this joke? Three Germans, one Dutch and two Eritreans are visiting the equator, what happens? You will find this out later on.
First of all it was a great pleasure to receive an invitation for this race. The Tropical Amissa Bongo is a top-class cycling race on the African continent. The organizers want to get as many Tour de France teams as possible to participate and give all African national teams the chance to participate. We kept our fingers crossed for weeks hoping we would be lucky enough to take part in the race until we finally got the confirmation. And we only got expected after our Mekseb was voted African Cyclist of the year 2014.
We already attended a couple of races in Africa, so naturally we all had expectations. The first thing that was surprising: on the way to the hotel we saw workers mowing the law at the road edges. A pretty bourgeois way of life which we haven’t seen before in Central Africa. Also the cars seemed so neat and clean, no old Asian mini vans that are fully loaded with people, motorbikes and animals. As usual we had dried food, cereal and preserves. For spoiled Europeans the food plan is not always light cuisine. However, this time it turned out to be unnecessary because we stayed at the brand-new Radisson Blu Hotel where we hit the buffet.
Also apart from this the event organizer spared no expenses: again and again the whole peleton traveled by plane to the next stage. It was also a new experience to board a plane without having showered, eaten and sometimes even still wearing racing clothes and riding a time trial in the evening having already competed in a stage in the morning. Gabun has a few characteristics that are different from other countries in Central Africa. It is 75 per cent as big as Germany and only has 1,6 million inhabitants. Furthermore it is economically rather strong in comparison to the surrounding countries. A small, organized country, that is sometimes even called the Switzerland of sub-Saharan Africa.
For us it was the first race of the season. One week before our departure we had to train on rollers because otherwise we would have had to take our mountain bikes out in the snow. When we were about to start the first stage it was 40 degrees Celsius. This takes our back to the beginning of this article. But wasn’t as funny as it might sound. Christoph, Daniel and Matthias were the German part of the group. However, they couldn’t function they way they wanted to because their bodies simply said “no”. How can we describe this? Daniel once said that he even had cramps behind his ear. Sometimes he laid down on the street and screamed so laud that the police came and thought they had to take the guy straight to the hospital. His team colleagues tried to explain that he just needs a minute and then he’ll continue riding. Matthias wasn’t much better off. Having cramps as well it seemed impossible for him to manage a 1km ascent to the finishing line. It took him almost fifteen minutes before the fell to the ground at the finishing line where he dimly saw his team colleague Daniel being carried away on a stretcher.
A bit later, as they had enough energy again to have a conversation, Christoph told how he managed the ascent having clicked out one of his legs. The one leg was still able to pedal while the other only stopped cramping when it was hanging down lifelessly. Long story short: there wasn’t much going on athletically with this part of the team, they would have been better off going skiing.
You would think the Dutch part of our team had the same problem with the difficult climate change? Not really. Maarten spent most of the past year in Malaysia. His body was used to participate in races with tropical conditions. He rode a very strong race and just missed position 11 in the top ten overall ranking. Our former team colleague Dan Craven rode for Europcar and we congratulate him for being 5th in the overall ranking.
Our two African riders Mekseb and Meron had the fewest problems, again and again they achieved top ten results in the daily place ciphers. During stage four Mekseb was third and thereby achieved the first podium position for BIKE AID this season. He outpaced top sprinters like the Belarusian Yauheni Hutarovich of the Tour de France team Betragne-Séché. With an overall ranking of position 11, one podium position and four other top ten positions in a 2.1 race it was a successful season start for our team.