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News 02 Sep 14

French Ambassador Leaves Bosnia by Bike

With his unusual decision to cycle back to France, departing ambassador Roland Gilles sent a message about breaking down barriers in communities to the divided country.

Eleanor Rose

French Ambassador Roland Gilles ended his four-year tenure in Bosnia by leaving Sarajevo on his bike on September 1, aiming to send a political message through sport.

Instead of going by car or plane, the ambassador’s unusual choice of a two-wheeled vehicle also provided a platform for local cyclists to advocate for better cycling infrastructure.

Beginning a journey of 15 days, Roland Gilles and his wife, Claudia Carceroni-Santaigne, a world cycling champion, set off towards Paris on mountain bikes.

The French Embassy said Gilles’ decision to go by bike was not a superficial one. “Sport is an excellent way to get rid of barriers between people,” the Embassy said, adding that Gilles’s strength as Ambassador lay in his ability to form relationships with people from all ethnicities.

“We’ll be back,” said Gilles, who became known during his tenure in Bosnia for travelling 100km on his bike nearly every day on trips around the country to large towns and villages alike.

Carceroni-Santaigne was fresh from collecting a silver medal at the four-day UCI World Cycling Tour final in Ljubljana on Sunday, during which she wore a Bosnia and Herzegovina jersey.

Gilles was instrumental in the organization of June’s Sarajevo Grand Prix event, sponsored by organisers of the Tour de France, in which 140 professional cyclists joined 3,000 amateurs from across Bosnia and Herzegovina who participated in all or part of the route.

The 140km race crossed former frontlines from the 1992-95 war. It was the only event marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1 to have been jointly organized between Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia – the country’s two ethnic-based entities.

“Thank God I met Roland Gilles,” Zlatko Berbic, president of the Bicycle Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said on Monday. “It would not have been possible without him,” he told Balkan Insight.

Gilles and his wife, who have been ordained honorary presidents of the club, were also key to developing new plans for a cycling path across Sarajevo. Mayor Ivo Komsic promised that the route, which will connect Dobrinja to the Old Town, will be opened next year.

Sarajevo is not famed for being bike-friendly, with no significant cycle paths at present.

Berbic said that a further project will connect the paths currently used by cycling enthusiasts in the mountains to the south-east of Sarajevo with one formal bike lane. The route will connect the city with Trebevic and a circuit of former Olympic sites.

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