Friday, February 12, 2016

The Algerian Grand Tour

For the last couple of seasons, there has been a new sensation taking over the spring cycling season from a country that was one of the traditional powers in Africa that had been dormant for many years. Algeria, when it was an a region of France, was able to produce a few talents that got into the Tour de France back in the 1950s but after the breakdown of Algerian/French relations, the country lost much of its cycling tradition. The Tour d'Algeria went on as an amateur event in the late 60s and 70s and was popular with the Eastern Bloc riders but after a failed attempt in the 80s, the race didn't come back for good until 2011.

Algerian cycling has featured a comeback of sorts since the mid-2000s with Youcef Reguigui (Dimension Data) being the headline rider for the nation. The number of races in the country have been growing and reached a peak last year with the birth of Le Tour d'Algérie Cycliste, the Grand Tour of Algeria.

While there is no overall general classification as the tour is made up of 10 separate races of varying length, last year's event didn't see one rider make it through the whole affair but Dimension Data's Mekseb Debesay managed to get in the first 17 racing days before DNFing the 2nd stage of the Tour International de Constantine. Hichem Chaabane won 8 of the events but ended up testing positive for EPO and earned himself an 18-month suspension.

This year's schedule is similar to last year's with 10 races over the month of March totaling 22 race days in all.

March 4th - Circuit International d'Alger
March 5th-7th - Tour Internationale d'Oranie
March 8th - Grand Prix de la Ville d'Oran
March 10th-12th - Tour International de Blida
March 13th-16th - Tour International de Setif
March 17th - Criterium International de Setif
March 19th-22nd - Tour Internationale d'Annaba
March 23rd-25th - Tour International de Constantine
March 26th - Circuit International de Constantine
March 28th - Criterium International de Blida

The racing itself can be anywhere from big bunch sprints to serious gutter racing with crosswinds mangling the peloton and spitting riders out left, right and center. 

The only confirmed team at this point is the Rwandan National Team but the race should be attended by multiple national teams in Africa plus with a smattering of continental and amateur teams. The race is bookended by events in Morocco with the Continental Championships taking place before the race on February 22nd and 26th (for the elites) and the Tour of Morocco takes place from April 1st to 10th. In total, that is 34 racing days in just over a month's time. That is in the Maghreb alone and just a week after Morocco ends, there are 8 more days of racing in Eritrea. 42 racing days in just about two months would knacker any rider, continental or World Tour level alike.

Espoirs Central will follow up with more once the racing gets underway next month.

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