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Caribbean Diaries: Tony Vélos – A jewel of a bike shop in Guadeloupe

Tony Vélos has become the focal point of the island's thriving cycling scene through the development of its own club and its welcoming of bikes of all shapes and sizes.

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If a town or neighborhood can be judged by the quality of its bike shop, then Saint François on the eastern edge of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe gets high marks. It is here where Tony Vélos thrives, serving as a vital hub for cyclists near and far.

Tucked away on the corner of Rue de la Liberté and Rue Sheolcher, Tony Vélos sits between the town’s modern marina and its more traditional fishing port in the shadows of the Marché de la Rotonde, the town’s central market.

But this unpretentious little bike shop is a hive of activity all its own. It is here where local residents come for repairs and where local cyclists congregate before or after their rides. And it is here where cyclists from around the world come to service their racing bikes while training in the tropical sun during winter.

Opened 33 years ago, Tony Vélos welcomes virtually every two-wheeled machine imaginable. They service local mopeds, but they also stock high-end tubular tires for racing bikes. Such diversity most likely comes from Tony Latchmansing, the shop’s owner.

“I come from a long line of Indians living here in Guadeloupe,” Latchmansing told VeloNews. “We came from a northern corner of India but have been here for generations. I am the last of 11 children and all of us rode bikes. My sister even married Jacques Imbrogno, a cyclist that won the Tour of Guadeloupe in 1974. We all rode bikes.”

Shop owner Tony Latchmansing Photo: James Startt

While Latchmansing was a modest racer himself, he remains deeply connected to the island’s long cycling tradition, and in his own way, has become a real fixture in the sport himself.

“Cycling is the number-one sport by far in Guadeloupe!” Latchmansing said. “It has always been a real priority here. From the very beginning, cycling was one of the sports practiced and learned in school. It was part of the education system. Everybody, even if they were not real racing cyclists, had a bike.”

Latchmansing insists that having a focal point like the Tour de Guadeloupe, now approaching its 70th edition, has also played a huge role.

“The Tour de Guadeloupe provides a huge focus on cycling every year. If you are a cyclist here and you have a chance to ride the Tour de Guadeloupe, it’s a really big deal. If you have a job, you take your vacation time to race the Tour de Guadeloupe. And everybody, all your friends, the whole family, will get behind you. Cycling is the number-one sport on the island.”

The thriving racing scene has produced local champions that have found success on the French national, as Guadeloupe is officially a department of France. Riders from the island have also raced at the international level, something that only encourages others on the island to ride or race themselves.

“Back in the 1977 Christian Merlot won the French national championships as a junior, and then we have had riders like Yohann Gène who raced for years as a professional and was often in the Tour de France,” Latchmansing said. “In addition, we have always had riders from France come and race here and today, more and more riders coming here from South American and other parts of the world to race. All of that only helps cycling to thrive here in Guadeloupe.”

Using his bike shop as a service course, Latchmansing also founded team Gwada Bikers 118 in 2008, and the local club has become one of the top squads on the island.

“I really try to focus on young riders because even though cycling is popular here in Guadeloupe, it’s not easy today because the youth are always attracted to so many sports – football, handball, water sports,” Latchmansing explained. “But once they get into it, there are a lot of great riders and we have developed a very strong team, and we have won virtually all of the races here in Guadeloupe.”

In some ways, this cycling-friendly tropical island is one of the sport’s best-kept secrets. But Latchmansing insists that the secret is increasingly getting out year after year.

“I see people from all parts of the world come here,” he said. “We have a lot of Canadians, a lot of Americans, and of course a lot of Europeans who simply come here to ride. They all stop by my shop and they all say the same thing, that they are happy to spend part of their winter riding in a place like this!”