CyclingTips contributors Tom Owen and Matt Grayson were in Sierra Leone for the 2022 edition of the Tour de Lunsar, held in late March. Tom’s words lead this off, and then Matt’s stunning photography tells the story.
The Science In Sport Tour de Lunsar is an explosion of sound and colour, an act of nation-building as much as a bicycle race. In a country where life can still be incredibly hard, especially for the young, the rowdy pursuit of sporting excellence is a welcome break from the day-to-day.
The weekend begins with a day of women’s and junior racing around Lunsar, and then the entire circus heads down the road to the capital for a men’s grand depart in Freetown that is nothing short of riotous. Two more days of men’s racing follow, with Ibrahim S Jalloh crowned the winner of the yellow, the polka dot, and the white sprinter’s jerseys. If Jalloh’s name rings a bell, it’s because he was the focus of a photograph that came to define
our coverage of the 2019 race, sitting bereft on the back of a motorbike holding his bike in his arms after being ruled out with an unfixable mechanical.
Fatima Deborah Conteh won her first blue Le Col jersey as the women’s champion this year. If
that name sounds familiar it’s because Conteh was announced as one of the members of the newly formed Canyon-SRAM Generation development team earlier this year. Frustratingly, a denied visa has meant she has so far been unable to join her teammates in Europe.
Fatima Deborah Conteh (L) and Elizabeth Mansary (R) – both of Lunsar Cycling Team – at the culmination of the Women’s race at the Tour de Lunsar on March 24, 2022.
Many of the teams were wearing donated kit from professional teams and riders. The clothing for Lunsar Women’s Team was donated by professional rider Grace Brown.
Lunsar Cycling Team’s Fatima Deborah Conteh celebrates winning the Women’s Race.
Elizabeth Mansary tries to cool down after over three hours in the saddle in temperatures in the high 30s Celsius (100 ºF). She finished second in the Women’s Tour de Lunsar.
Fans cheer the riders at the culmination of the Women’s Tour de Lunsar.
The junior men’s race leaves Lunsar on the way to Port Loko.
Abdulraman Kamara of Lunsar Cycling Junior Team leads the Junior men’s race on the road to Port Loko.
A view of the junior men’s race at the finish in Lunsar. The unfinished clock tower made for a great vantage point for spectators.
Lunsar Cycling Junior Team’s Ibrahim Kamara celebrates the defence of his Junior title. The clothing for Lunsar Junior Team was donated by professional rider Dan Martin.
Any view of the podium presentation would do as the junior men’s and women’s champions were named.
The elite men’s race began in Freetown the next day, March 25, 2022. Here the peloton leaves the outskirts of Freetown on open roads as life continues around the race.
Stage one: The breakaway in the elite men’s race head from Freetown to Lunsar.
Lunsar Team B’s Alie Kanu (right) on stage one.
Riders cross the River Rokel on the way from Freetown to Lunsar on stage one. The new Magbele Bridge is part of the EU-funded Moyamba-Moyamba Junction Road and Bridges Project. When completed, the new bridge will improve transport links to the south east of the country.
The peloton passes the remains of a burnt out car on the road from Freetown to Lunsar.
A private bus, laden with luggage, passes the breakaway group. The race takes place on open roads – there are no road closures. Police outriders warn oncoming vehicles of the riders’ presence.
All vantage points were taken in Lunsar for the elite men’s race. The unfinished clocktower in the centre of Lunsar was a prime viewing spot despite the ongoing building work.
Lunsar Cycling Team A’s Osman T Kalokoh reacts to winning the first stage from Freetown to Lunsar.
Lunsar Team A rider – the winner of the junior men’s race the previous day – Ibrahim Kamara reacts to his team mate Osman T Kalokoh winning stage 1.
Supporters of Kalokoh react as they cross the line on one of the official motorbikes behind the riders. The teams rely on motorbikes more than team cars to support riders with water and spare wheels in case of punctures.
Wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, Kalokoh is greeted by local fans after his stage 1 win.
Surrounded by bikes and wearing the yellow jersey, Kalokoh waits in the team bus to head back to the team hotel.
Lunsar Teams A and B prepare ahead of stage 2, from Lunsar to Makeni and back to Lunsar.
Race leader Osman T. Kalokoh (right) and mountains leader Ibrahim Jalloh (left), both of Lunsar Cycling Team A, wait for stage 2 to start.
Flames Cycling Club’s Tenesie Dixon tries to break from the peloton, closely marked by Lunsar Cycling Team A’s Sorie Koroma. Dixon was the biggest rival for Lunsar Team A for the overall title.
Osman T Kalokoh in the yellow jersey on stage 2 passes through a village on the way into Lunsar.
The peloton passes roadside vendors on the way back to Lunsar.
The move that decided the whole race was a solo breakaway by Lunsar Team A’s Ibrahim Jalloh. In searing temperatures he attacked alone on stage 2, keeping the entire peloton at bay. The time gap he took into the third and final stage was enough to see him win the whole race.
Keeping the riders cool in such temperatures is crucial to their success.
Ibrahim Jalloh celebrates his race-winning stage victory.
Jalloh left it all on the road to win stage 2, securing the race lead into stage 3.
C2C Cycling Team’s Joseph Mansaray performs a brave piece of cornering as the riders exit the Lunsar circuit and head to Port Look on Stage 3.
The peloton flies past spectators in Lunsar.
Flames Cycling Team’s Mustapeh Koroma crashed heavily on stage 2. Without any spare team kit, Mustapeh had to race stage 3 in the same ripped clothing from the previous day.
Lunsar Cycling A’s Ibrahim Jalloh in the race leader’s jersey on stage 3 to Port Loko.
The final stage win would go to Lunsar Team B’s Moses Kamara. He and his bike are carried aloft by an ecstatic crowd.
The clothing for Lunsar Team B was donated by WorldTour team EF Education-EasyPost.
Ibrahim Jalloh (left) was the dominant force of the 2022 Tour de Lunsar. He won the leader’s yellow jersey, as well as finishing first in the sprint and mountains competitions. Deborah Conteh (right) of Lunsar Cycling Team won the women’s race.