Spotlight on Senegal
Increase the popularity of cycling in Senegal, organise mountain bike events to attract youngsters, find partners willing to invest in the sport… Michel Thioub set himself a tough set of challenges when elected President of the Fédération Sénégalaise de Cyclisme in April 2015.
But his immediate objective was to restore and develop the country’s national stage race, the Tour du Sénégal. As Technical Director of the Federation for 28 years, Thioub used to organise 45 regional and national races each year. In the early 2000s he revived the dormant Tour du Sénégal, which he then organised annually until 2011 when ill-health meant he had to take a step back. Again, the Tour disappeared.
Thanks to the determination of the new Federation President, the Tour du Sénégal was restored in 2015, returned to the UCI Africa Tour calendar in 2016 and in April this year enjoyed another successful edition.
But Race Director Thioub is never satisfied: “There are always things that can be improved. I am always under pressure and worried about everyone’s well-being but I have had some very positive feedback.”
He says a national tour such as the Tour du Sénégal, where local hero Bécaye Traoré finished 10th this year, goes a long way to motivating the population
“There is a lot of enthusiasm for cycling in Sénégal but activity has diminished in the last few years. The Tour du Sénégal is very popular, it received good press coverage, school children were released from class to come and watch, and we organised festivities in the evenings after the stages where everyone could get together.”
He is always on the lookout for ways to add spice to the racing and would dearly like to hold one or two stages in a neighbouring country to make a change from Senegal’s largely flat, wind-exposed roads.
“I would like to get away from the routine and innovate. But I have to be prudent as there is always the problem of finance.”
One of the Federation President’s biggest handicaps in his work is the lack of money.
“Technically, we are very good. I have been involved in cycling since the 1960s and organised a lot of races. The problem is finance. Cycling is not football and the investment is not the same.”
Looking for race experience
Lack of finance also means that the national team is not always able to accept invitations to race abroad. And with not even 25 events currently organised annually in Senegal, the athletes are lacking race experience.
“A rider should have at least 80 days racing a year and we just can’t manage that,” says Thioub.
Several talented young riders are coming up behind 30-year-old Bécaye Traoré, and Thioub was proud to see his country’s riders right up in the action at the African Continental Championships in Luxor, Egypt, in February. They have also gained experience in Morocco and Gabon, and the President is sure that their experience at these races will lead to even better results next year.
Meanwhile, he means to build Senegal’s cycling future by encouraging younger children to take up the sport.
To do this he will canvass major brands to put their name to new cycling clubs in order to increase the number of clubs which has declined to just 10 throughout the country. Plans are afoot to work with schools to encourage children to participate in twice-weekly cycling games and workshops.
Talent detection will be carried out at mountain bike races: “Mountain bikes are cheaper than road bikes so they are more accessible. A lot of children in the smaller villages go to school on bikes and we want to encourage that.
“The bike is very important in all aspects of life: for the protection of the environment and for health reasons. We need to raise people’s awareness and also get the Government on board.
“I have ideas running 100km/h through my head but we need time. I am optimistic and I believe anything is possible.”