A Race to Progress
It's known as "the richest event in one of the world's poorest countries." The Tour de Lunsar is now one of the best-known bicycle races in West Africa, but it had an uphill climb to the podium.
The Tour de Lunsar is the creation of Abdul Karim Kamara, who started as a bike shop owner supported by Village Bicycle Project. He then became the in-country program manager for VBP. To help promote cycling in Sierra Leone he started a racing team, then he organized a race. In 2013 they completed their first Tour...all 10 riders. Then Ebola halted the event for several years. Just as it was gaining momentum again, Covid emerged, grounding them yet again.
In cycling, a peloton is a cluster of riders who benefit by riding tightly together, decreasing drag and increasing speed, while saving valuable amounts of energy. This technique often allows a rider to come from the back of the pack for a breakaway win at the finish line. It's a lot like what happened to this year's Tour de Lunsar women's leader Elizabeth Mansaray who finished a close second when Fatima Deborah Conteh made a sprint for the title. Deborah's team, Lunsar Cycling, helped her conserve energy by working together throughout the race so she could pull ahead at the end.
This could also describe the grit and determination of Sierra Leone, a young nation plagued by challenge after challenge. Civil War, Ebola, and most recently Coronavirus have sidelined a generation fighting to get ahead the whole race. But by coming together and working toward a common goal, they are finding their place.
Karim's vision was to bring cycling to his community to provide valuable, attractive alternatives to youth which emphasized dedication, discipline and a healthy lifestyle. But this was dream operating on a shoestring budget and cycling equipment is expensive. Karim used his skill and connections to find bikes for his teammates to race.
Bikes were pushed into the spotlight in 2020 both as transportation and for recreation and were in high demand all over the world. In 2021, perhaps thanks to the pandemic, the Tour de Lunsar came back bigger than ever. The race is now in it's sixth year with 120 riders across three categories. Of the local riders participating in the race- 90% were using bikes and gear donated through our partner VBP- meaning YES we ARE absolutely using your old jerseys, shoes, parts, and racing bikes. Well, they are anyway.
The Tour de Lunsar is giving young riders something to aspire to, they have idols to look up to, goal to achieve, dreams to be met. Many young people see cycling as their ticket to see the world. If they do well, and win, they may have the opportunity to race in France, Italy, Ghana. Being part of a team builds confidence and leads to achievement. A bicycle is a bright spot in their dim landscape.
To the community the race offers much, much more. Race partners come and train local mechanics, providing tool kits and knowledge to help grow small businesses or start new ones. With the influx of participants and spectators, the Tour also helps builds the local economy. It provides jobs for carpenters, drivers, cooks....Rooms are rented, restaurants hopping...something desperately needed after the lockdowns in 2020.
And because the Tour de Lunsar has captured the attention of the cycling community it is giving an international audience a personalized tour of a country rich in diversity and scenery. Karim does not see his home as a place to escape from, but rather a place for others to come and explore.So when you are ready for travel again...
This is a beautiful, peaceful country. You can have an experience here that will stay with you forever and you'll be welcomed warmly wherever you go.Abdul Karim Kamara, Race Director, Village Bicycle Project Program Manager