Moving Up with Merhawi Kudus
While Asmara might be known for its eclectic Italian architecture, the Eritrean capital is also one of the highest cities in the world. And at 2,325 metres above sea level, it is perhaps fitting that one of world cycling’s emerging climbing talents was born there.
‘The landscape in Asmara, and Eritrea as a whole, is really good for cycling,’ says Merhawi Kudus. ‘We have a lot of good climbs and a good racing circuit too. In fact, cycling is one of the biggest sports there. Sure, the racing in Europe is much tougher, but Eritrea is a really good place to develop as a cyclist.’
Merhawi is one of those elite athletes that has enjoyed gradual progression over the years. And it was while attending the UCI World Cycling Centre in 2013 that he got his first opportunity to test is mettle in the professional ranks.
‘The French team Bretagne-Séché Environnement offered me a place as a stagiaire (trial rider) in August 2013 and I took that opportunity with both hands. I was super happy and got to compete in some big French races, showing me that I was strong enough to be a professional rider. Bretagne was a great team and I was really happy there but MTN-Qhubeka (now Team Dimension Data) were also interested in signing me for the following year.’
Only a month after starting with Africa’s Team, Merhawi underlined the potential he had previously shown as a teenager by finishing second overall at Le Tour de Langkawi. Good results in Europe followed, with the Eritrean standout regularly rubbing shoulders with the world’s top cyclist on their home turf. His first Tour de France followed in 2015, making it to the Champs Elysees as the race’s youngest rider. But beneath his dimunitive frame and modest persona aside lies a competitve fire, one that continues to be stoked with each consecutive pro season.
‘Each year has seen a gradual improvement,’ says Merhawi. ‘2016 was good, 2017 was better, even though I crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana. I’m working really hard on my time trailling to make myself a more complete rider. The Vuelta is my focus this year and I will fight hard for a stage win there.’
Photo credit: Stiehl Photography