The EF Kono Criterium

This is bike racing in Koidu Town, Sierra Leone

January 31, 2024

The EF Kono Criterium is one round of a newly-created series of national criterium races, known as the Salone Cup, which seeks to grow the sport in Sierra Leone by providing more frequent racing opportunities to domestic riders. 

Even by Sierra Leonean standards, the EF Kono Criterium was a wild time. The town of Koidu had never hosted a major bike race before, but in recent years the local team, Kono Cycling, has been steadily growing. Their athletes are often seen on the podium of races in other parts of the country, but travel is costly, and that limits the number of riders who can go.

It takes upwards of four hours to get to the next town where races are held, and another two and a half to reach Freetown, the capital, which means that when the team race it’s nearly always an overnighter and a big production. Cars are borrowed. Bodies are crammed in. Two people to each seat in a vehicle is normal. If there’s no money for gas, riders will sometimes pedal the 200-km distance, taking a couple of days to get to the start, all for a few hours of frenetic, hectic, life-affirming activity.

So when bike racing came to the streets of Koidu, people turned out to support their hometown team in a big way.

First up was the junior boys’ race, won by Alhaji Sankoh from Makeni Cycling Team. Fans mobbed the finish line. Kono was able to field nine riders, five of whom have not competed before.

The men’s elite race was won by Tenesie Dixon from Flames Cycling Team, nudging ahead of Alie Tholley of C2C Cycling and Moses Kamara of Lunsar Cycling in a frantic final sprint.

In Sierra Leone, it’s commonplace to throw money, or place it on someone’s person, as a way of showing approval or support. It’s not the same as prize money, and is given at an individual’s discretion. Naturally, hometown rider Mohammed Bangura and not the guys on the podium was the one who ended up with bills placed inside his helmet straps and down the front of his jersey.

But the biggest reaction of the day was for the women’s race. Going in, this was Kono’s biggest chance for a home winner. At just 15 years of age, Blessing Jane Jabbie is probably the brightest talent in Sierra Leonean cycling at the moment. She’s a phenomenal athlete and hopes to represent her country at the All Africa Games in Ghana in March.

The response when she crossed the line first was nothing less than an outpouring of joy. The spectators lifted her on their shoulders, carrying their young champion around the streets. This was the win they’d hoped for. This was the arrival of cycling to Koidu Town, Sierra Leone.

If you'd like to support the growth of cycling in Sierra Leone, you can contribute to this crowd funding campaign, which is raising money for the 2024 Tour de Lunsar.

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