Determined Team Eritrea to Defend Its African Continental Championship Title

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Eritrean riders need to coordinate and work hard tomorrow to defend their African Championship Crown for the 5th time
When the going get tough only the tough gets going. Eritrean riders need to coordinate and work hard tomorrow to defend their African Championship Crown for the 5th time

By Eri Sportive,

THE smiling Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane might be accustomed to the Continental Gold medals that they are, by now, used to winning it since 2010. But for the other two, Merhawi Kudus and Mekseb Debesay, it’s their first Gold in the African continental championship.

Merhawi has obviously won a bronze medal in the road race last year in Egypt but the Gold one this year is the first for the young athlete who is confirmed to become the first black African to take part in the Tour de France in four months time this year.

For the young Mekseb Debesay, it’s his first ever participation in the event, and obviously the most inform rider in Africa, has attained his first ever Gold medal on his debut appearance.

The fact that they have won it in a very close competition of only a three seconds gap from the flying South Africans team in second position makes it even a sweeter victory. Coupled with that and knowing his addition hasn’t disspaointed the new Eritrean national team Chrono, the emotion in Mekseb’s face says it all. He seemed to be unable to hold his emotions seen in the pic shedding tears of joy. I’m sure his older brother Freqalsi Debesay, who has won the same Gold medal three times from 2010 to 2012, is emotional too seeing his brother following his footsteps. As the current top African rider, Mekseb is more than a worthy competitor and deserved his Gold medal.

The time gap, however, is closing down from 48 seconds two years ago in Ougadougou against Tunisia in second place to 31 seconds last year in Egypt against Algeria in second place followed by South Africa and now to 3 seconds against a more determined team South Africa in second place in their own home.

The fact that the current Eritrean team came the closest against the chasing South African team indicated that the later was so determined to knock Eritrean team off their hard-won African crown they held since 2010. Eventhough the third placed Ethiopian team of time trialist were hardly a threat in third place with a further huge time gap of a minute and 12seconds (72seconds), their pro rider, Ghirmay Tsigabu of the former MTN rider now with Lamper Merida can be a threat in the individula time trial setting off tomorrow.

Daniel Teklehaimanot had a close shave in Ougadougou in 2012 when silver medalist, Tsigabu finished only a close 2 seconds behind Daniel in the ITT.

Natnael Berhane had also came even closer when defending his road race championship the same year in Ougadougou. The explosive Natnael of Eritrea out sprinted Jay Roberts of South Africa in a close sprint to the finish line where Freqalsi Debesay finished third to win the bronze medal in 2012 road race too.

Jay Roberts was in the current South African team trialists that grabbed the silver medal yesterday. The former African Continental ITT champion in 2009, Jay Roberts, hasn’t had a sniff of the Gold medal since the introduction of team Eritrea in the continent’s championship the following year in 2010 in Rwanda, where they had won every Gold medal on offer ever since.

When the going get tough, only the tough gets going so nothing can be taken for granted as every rider is expected to be on full steam in their attempt to knock Eritrea off their crown in the continent’s Individual Time Trial (ITT) Championship tomorrow.

As the current defending champion of the heated controversial ITT championship in Eritrea a year ago, Natnael Berhane will find himself pitted against his compatriot and teammate, Daniel Tekelhaimanot, who himself is the undisputed king time trialist of the continent for the last 5 years.

Even though Daniel and Natnael might be the clear favourites on paper to win it tomorrow, there is no doubt that they will be facing an equally fierce competitions from the young Merhawi, the 2014 top African rider Mekseb, the seasoned pros like South Africa’s Louis Meinjtes, the 2009 ITT champ, Jay Roberts and of course the 2012 ITT silver medalist, Ghirmay Tsigabu of Ethiopia.

It’s worth adding that the longer distance in the ITT race course (48km) tomorrow obviously favours Daniel Tekelhaimanot as he’s an endurance rider but that sort of course also favours Mekseb’s style as it had done his brother, Freqalsi, for a number of years. Our riders aren’t usually keen on a shorter ITT race course simply because it usually takes a while on the course to keep warmed up to sustain their racing speed against time.

Tomorrow’s ITT obviously requires a lot of concentration and focus in their tactics.

As always, all the best to our Eritrean riders.