Ten days from now, former double World Champion and 1998 Vuelta a España winner Abraham Olano will be starting work as the new national trainer for Gabon, to, as he puts it, "build the squad from scratch."
The Gabon government started looking for a trainer after last year's Tour de France, and Olano was then contacted directly by the Alberto Contador Foundation, which - apart from its main work in Spain - also helps develop cycling in Africa.
"I will be working there as national trainer and also to help in the Foundation's work, getting bikes and other material to help the sport at grassroots level," Olano tells Cyclingnews.
"I've been working here in Tolosa (in the Basque Country) with their local cycling school, the same one where I started to learn to ride a bike myself, and I knew that the Contador Foundation, too, is working in the same kinds of areas. So that experience is going to help me in Gabon."
Olano's work will essentially be to manage the country's top amateur riders and assisting in setting up infrastructures to improve racing and training conditions across the board. The big target will be for the riders to perform well in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, one of the continent's top stage races, which takes place in Gabon at the end of January each year. Last year's winner of the decade-old event was Skydive Dubai rider Rafael Chtioui of Tunisia.
Olano admits that he has very little knowledge of Gabon, in West Africa, with a population of around 1.5 million - but "the President [of the Cycling Federation] has told me that's not a bad thing because we’re starting from scratch, building the team from the base upwards. So I've no idea. But that’s kind of the point.
"I've seen the races they organise there, the Tropicale Amissa Bongo. They have national riders involved, but I've been told they're on the start list and that's pretty much as good as it gets. They don't get to the Worlds or anything like that.
"We'll do what we can for next January, but I'm really hoping for improvement there for further down the line.
"So what they want to do is bring on their riders at all levels, but my first job is to work with the ones who take part in that race. We want these riders do well in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, so they can act as an inspiration to other people to get out and ride bikes and race. It's about motivating them, and getting some sponsors in, too, hopefully to try and bring them over to races in Europe and across Africa."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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