Donât let Soufiane Haddi escape in a breakaway. The stars of the Tropicale Amissa Bongo â Tour du Gabon decided to keep a very close watch on this 22-year-old Moroccan rider, little known at the start but on the receiving end of many compliments at the finish. This marking definitely cost him any chance of victory but the public certainly noticed him, his determined look continuously fixed on the horizon and his front wheel stationed resolutely behind that of the yellow jersey.Â An ace attacker, rapid in the sprint for bonus points, Haddi literally exploded onto the scene mid-January in this extremely selective UCI Africa Tour event.
In the overall classification, he finished second, just eight seconds behind Yohann GÃ¨ne (Team Europcar), Thomas Voecklerâs precious worker in the Tour de France the last two years. In addition he sweeps up three other prizes: best African rider, best young rider and winner of the intermediate sprints. These performances mean he now lies fifth in the UCI Africa Tour.
After his beginnings in mountain bike, Haddi now excels both in sprints and in small climbs. He won the time trial at the Arab Championships in front of the 2011 UCI Africa Tour winner Adil Jelloul, who accepted to work for him during the Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
Morocco has discovered a new talent in Haddi. The rider from Khenifra, the capital of the lakes in the Middle Atlas, is proving to be one of the best on the continent (in the face of the Eritreans, leaders in the nations ranking). Even more importantly, he manages to make a place for himself among the European professionals.
The emergence of Haddi corresponds with a new sporting cycle in Morocco. The leaders are working on the post-London Olympics and therefore the post-Jelloul. Other young riders made an appearance at the Tropical Amissa Bongo, such as Aadel Reda (22) and Anass Ait El Abdia (23).
âWe are already preparing for Rio 2016,â underlines Mostafa Najjari. The National Technical Director is aware that his national team has had a rather aging image over the last few years. âThat is normal,â he explains. âIn the run-up to a major objective such as the Olympic Games, we tend to select riders capable of winning, and they are often the more experienced ones.â
At the beginning of a new Olympic cycle, the Moroccans get stuck into their development work. âBut we are permanently developing our riders,â assures Najjari, who detected Haddi as a junior in 2009 and who gave him a chance first in the national B team and then in the A team.
In 2012, is protÃ©gÃ© finished 13th in the U23 time trial at the UCI WorldÂ Championships in Limburg (the Netherlands) and 10th in the 2.1 Polish race, la Course de Solidarnosc et des Champions Olympiques.
This season, Haddi will set his sights on different UCI events organised in his own country, including the Tour du Maroc â 4th in 2011 he abandoned last year after a fall. At the Tour dâAlgÃ©rie in March, he will again have a chance to move up the individual rankings of the UCI Africa Tour.
With 74 points, he is still behind GÃ¨ne (130 points), Eritreaâs Natnael Berhane (110.67), Burkina Fasoâs Rasmane Ouedraogo (90.33) and South Africaâs Jay Robert Thomson (78 points).
But this computer buff and economy student has already calculated his chances: overall victory is possible.
Photo : Soufiane Haddi (Moroccan selection) next to Andrea Palini (Lampre-Merida), leader in Gabon after the second stage. Credit : http://www.tropicaleamissabongo.com/