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Racing Squirrels GaGa after Tour du Faso

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Kakpo is ready giddy-up at the start of stage 5.

Kakpo is ready giddy-up at the start of stage 5. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Kakpo rides in the peloton in the final stage.

Kakpo rides in the peloton in the final stage. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Coach Gandaho gives Augustin a push after changing a flat tire.

Coach Gandaho gives Augustin a push after changing a flat tire. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Augustin and Soglo draft a French rider on stage nine’s gravel section.

Augustin and Soglo draft a French rider on stage nine’s gravel section. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Soglo has been Benin’s most consistent rider in the 2010 Tour du Faso.

Soglo has been Benin’s most consistent rider in the 2010 Tour du Faso. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Coach Gandaho offers strategic advice: stay in the pack, conserve energy, and keep out of the potholes.

Coach Gandaho offers strategic advice: stay in the pack, conserve energy, and keep out of the potholes. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Bruno the mechanic (left) works on one of the team bikes.

Bruno the mechanic (left) works on one of the team bikes. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Augustin and Soglo rest in the tent camp before stage 6.

Augustin and Soglo rest in the tent camp before stage 6. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Alphonse receives the “lantern rouge” award. The prize is intended to encourage riders not to give up.

Alphonse receives the “lantern rouge” award. The prize is intended to encourage riders not to give up. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Augustin and Soglo complete the final stage of the 2010 Tour du Faso.

Augustin and Soglo complete the final stage of the 2010 Tour du Faso. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)

While I’ve been writing dynamic reports about the action at the front of the peloton, there’s a whole other struggle at the back of the field. Since the challenges of the first three stages, things haven’t changed much for the Racing Squirrels.

Each day has been a struggle for survival, as the boys try to hang with the peloton as long as possible. It’s a long, hot road off the back. There have been a few highlights: three of our boys finished in the peloton on stage four, and Augustin has twice contested the field sprints, finishing somewhere in the mid twenties.

As the race progressed, Alphonse and Arnauld found themselves in hot contention for the lantern rouge, awarded to the last rider on each stage. Alphonse claimed the award on stage five, nonetheless determined to finish the whole Tour du Faso. Unfortunately he found himself off the back again on stage six, suffering from saddle sores and aching knees caused by his poorly-fitting bike. Although he was eager to complete the remaining four stages despite the pain, the official race doctor insisted that he withdraw.

Arnauld took over the lantern rouge, overcoming numerous flat tires and a snapped brake caliper to finish the 2010 Tour du Faso in last place. Meanwhile Augustin, Soglo, and Kakpa did pretty well for themselves. Hidden in the draft of the stronger teams, they finished in the peloton most days and showed grit that impressed the Europeans. I heard numerous coaches and riders comment about the determination of the teams from Benin and Togo. It’s rare to see such solidarity and encouragement within the peloton.

Despite the challenges, the team is in good spirits, and I think they’ve learned a lot here. In particular, this has been an eye opener for the younger guys, and I’ve been wrangling a plan with Coach Gandaho to nurture these youngsters over the next few years. I expect to see more red/yellow/green at the front by 2013.

The team has really appreciated the support from Cyclingnews readers. Each evening I’ve been passing on your messages. Also, Team Oregon stepped up to organize new jerseys for the team. The current kits look sharp, but they’re barely holding together with safety pins and patches. We’re hoping for at least 12 jerseys so each rider can have one spare in next year’s Tour, and we’re counting on donations to make this possible. Please contact me through my website if you’d like to help: www.QuietGriot.com

Tomorrow we’ll load back into the Miracle de Dieu and hit the long road home to Benin. I recently introduced the boys to Lady Gaga’s tunes, and now they can’t get enough. Hopefully that will keep the driver awake. Rah, rah, oh-la-la…