The Science In Sport Tour de Lunsar is a grassroots, non-UCI bike race that has brought magic to Lunsar, a small semi-rural town in the northern region of Sierra Leone, West Africa. The three-day event exists on a minimal budget but has been called 'the richest event in one of the world’s poorest countries' for its ability to showcase local cycling talent and bring together a cultural community.
The recent involvement of Science In Sport as the event’s title sponsor has allowed it to increase from being a one-day event to a three-day stage race held from April 16-18 this year - a leap that has also seen it grow in stature in terms of recognition and cooperation within the country.
As well as the three-day men's event, a women’s one-day race was held this year, as well as a junior men’s race.
Le Col, the UK kit and clothing manufacturer, has provided winner’s jerseys for the race for the last two editions – the most recent being 2019, after the 2020 race was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The overall men’s winner gets a yellow jersey, modelled on the tricots worn by the leaders of the Tour de France and Tour du Rwanda. The women’s champion is awarded a blue jersey, with the best junior rider getting a green jersey.
Cycling is a fringe sport in Sierra Leone, and in West Africa more generally. Unlike other parts of the continent – South and East Africa, where the sport is reasonably developed – in Sierra Leone, cycling is at the very beginning of its journey. The national team have competed abroad only once since the Ebola epidemic of 2014-16.
There was an enormous interest in the 2021 Tour de Lunsar, as evidenced by the massive crowds on the roadside each day at the finish in Lunsar. Two of the three stages were out-and-back routes to nearby towns of Makeni and Port Loko, while stage 1 began in Freetown, the nation’s capital, passing the iconic Cotton Tree on its way out of the city.
There are no professional cyclists in Sierra Leone, and almost nothing by way of a pathway to professionalism outside the country either. These racers compete because they love to ride bikes, sacrificing much and training hard – often on borrowed or donated second-hand equipment.
Nevertheless, there is something immediately identifiable about the passion and enthusiasm, the pain and the glory, that is evidenced in these photographs by Matt Grayson.
Click through the gallery above to view images of the 2021 Tour de Lunsar.
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