KINSHASA (Reuters) - The first cycling tour of Democratic Republic of Congo wrapped up on Thursday in Kinshasa with the victory of French rider Mederic Clain after eight grueling stages in the west of the giant African country.
Fifty-six riders who started the nearly 600-mile (960-km) race just over a week ago in the port city of Matadi crossed the finishing line in the riverside capital, marking the violence-plagued country's biggest sporting event in years.
Ten riders did not finish.
"The spectators who followed the race in three provinces were very welcoming. The countryside was absolutely extraordinary," Clain said, as Congolese groups played music at the finish line. "I'll be back for the second edition."
The race did not enter restive eastern Congo, where dozens of armed groups battle each other and the Congolese army, often for access to lucrative mineral deposits. Millions are estimated to have died during two decades of bloodshed.
Congo, a country the size of Western Europe at the heart of Africa, has less than 3,000 km of paved roads. The country ranks bottom of the United Nation's human development index and two-thirds of its 65 million inhabitants scrape a living on around $1 a day.
Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo had ordered roads closed for the race to minimize the risk of accident.
"For the second edition, the tour should be of the whole of Congo and not just a few provinces," said sports writer Beni-Joel Dinganga. "But for a first try this was a hit!"
(Reporting by Bienvenu-Marie Bakumanya; writing by Daniel Flynn; editing by Andrew Roche)