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The underdogs of Tour du Faso

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Benin’s Augustin Amoussouvi introduces himself during the team announcement.

Benin’s Augustin Amoussouvi introduces himself during the team announcement. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Travelling over a thousand kilometers with little rest, Bruno the mechanic leads the team in a bouncy nap.

Travelling over a thousand kilometers with little rest, Bruno the mechanic leads the team in a bouncy nap. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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A regional Burkina Faso team steps of the stage

A regional Burkina Faso team steps of the stage (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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The sharp-looking team from Senegal.

The sharp-looking team from Senegal. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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– The Belgian team has a long history of strong results at the Tour du Faso.

– The Belgian team has a long history of strong results at the Tour du Faso. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Benin’s coach Fernand Gandaho waves to the crowd.

Benin’s coach Fernand Gandaho waves to the crowd. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Frenchman Francis Ducreux is a former European professional who now works to promote many of Africa’s best competitions.

Frenchman Francis Ducreux is a former European professional who now works to promote many of Africa’s best competitions. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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The team presentation was an impressive formal affair with a speech by the Burkina Faso Minister of Sports.

The team presentation was an impressive formal affair with a speech by the Burkina Faso Minister of Sports. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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Bruno helps the team tune up (i.e. piece together) their bikes.

Bruno helps the team tune up (i.e. piece together) their bikes. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)
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The Burkina Faso National Team are an intimidating bunch.

The Burkina Faso National Team are an intimidating bunch. (Image credit: Christoph Herby)

It was a long, bumpy road to Ouagadougou, Africa's best-named capital and ground zero for the Tour de Faso. We loaded into the rickety minivan that's transported the Benin team to races for over a decade. Owned by a former cyclist, the "Miracle de Dieu" has transported the Benin team to races for over a decade and has become a fixture on the West African racing scene.

The aptly-named "Miracle of God" somehow managed over 1000km of road that ranged from mediocre to terrifying. We travelled for 28 hours straight, only stopping for an hour to sleep on the tables of an outdoor roadside market. While the racers slept in the back, I stayed anxiously attentive, ready to grab the wheel as the driver dozed in and out of alertness. Yup, real scary.

We finally arrived in Ouagadougou late Wednesday night. Settling into the fancy race hotel, I got a little nostalgic seeing the teams milling about and rows of sleek bikes ready for competition. This year's competition features teams from France, Belgium, Holland, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and of course the mighty Squirrels of Benin.

While I had previously thought Benin's cycling team was typical of West Africa, I've discovered that we are indeed the underdogs of the continent. While most of the other African teams also ride scavenged bikes, they've at least found somewhat modern equipment and nice uniforms. Our boys' old jerseys are held together with safety pins in place of zippers, and several of them display creative custom patches where crash tears have been repaired. You're definitely the underdog when the Togolese racers snickers at your outfit.

Unfortunately, the donations from CyclingNews readers have yet to arrive. The shipment should arrive in December. At least next year there will be fresh equipment for the team. While thanking everyone for their donations, Coach Gandaho made one additional request: new jerseys. Anybody interested in helping out? Perhaps your club could adopt the Beninese team? You could have your way with design and even put your team's sponsors on the jersey. Let me know.

After selecting fresh rubber from the team's collection of used tires, the boys set off to loosen up their legs while I went to the manager's meeting with Gandaho. The Tour de Faso is incredibly well organized, and they even provide a car for each team, so we'll leave the Miracle of God in Ouagadougou.

Like Benin, Burkina Faso celebrated its 50th independence anniversary this year, and the Tour plays an important role in showcasing Burkina's development. I was excited to see a strong contingent of media coverage at the opening ceremony for the big men's speeches and the team presentation. As I watched the Benin team walk on to the stage, I couldn't help but get a little sappy: it's such an incredible opportunity for these boys to travel to a foreign country and compete against top athletes. Alphonse hadn't ridden on paved roads until six months ago, and now he's about to start a UCI 2.2 stage race. Pretty cool.

Well, keep on reading. We've got ten stages and 1318km of adventure ahead of us.