Eritrean Cyclists Continue the Great Start to the Year

"Eritrean riders Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane, as we speak, are two of the biggest cycling talents in the world: - "@CyclingUptodate"
“Eritrean riders Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane, as we speak, are two of the biggest cycling talents in the world: – “@CyclingUptodate”

By Alula Abraha,

After Merhawi Kudus had excelled in the most important Queen’s stage of the famous Genting mountains of the Tour de Langkawi last Sunday, he continues to keep up the heat on the General Classification (GC) leader from the 2nd place.

Two days after his Queen’s stage performance, Merhawi has shown grit, determination and hunger to win today after he had picked himself up following an unfortunate crash with only 7 km left of the 200km race course of stage-6 yesterday. The boy didn’t panic. He just got up, dusted himself down and was on his bike again to catch the fast moving peloton under immense pressure.

Kudus is a wonder athlete. He had successfully defended his GC the hard way, ahead of the longest race course of 230km later today. It’s so long that it’s 20km longer than the length of the first (1st) and the last stage (10th) put together. That ‘never give up‘ attitude instilled in Merhawi’s psyche, which culminated into a successful fight back is, no doubt, expected to give the young and upcoming Eritrean athlete a massive moral boost in the remaining four stages.

Merhawi not looking content with his 2nd place of the Queen’s stage.

Natnael Berhane:

However, the 2013 African Athlete of the year and Europcar’s team leader, Natnael Berhane, has unfortunately found himself sitting around 4 minutes behind in 21st place.


In yesterday’s stage-6, Natnael and a couple of others had tried to break-away but were reeled back into the peloton. Many similar attempts had been made but all had failed to materialise in the end. But again, for Natnael, only a brave escape with a break-away group can put him back with the GC contenders. His best make or break chance lies on the 230km stage-7 race later today but Merhawi looks as hungry for the title too.

More Eritrean Triumphs:

Only a week before Ago, another 20 year old prodigy on his debut, Metkel Eyob had a great day winning the 160km Macsteel Carnival City National classic race, riding as a semi-pro with a WCCA (World Cycling Centre in Africa), a feeder for Team MTN Qhubeka and others potential teams.

It wasn’t only a simple win for Metkel. It was huge and the manner in which he had won it was even more mesmerizing. After he was involved in a break-away group of four, of which he was the only one from WCCA against the rest of the three from team Bonita, they worked so hard to wear Metkel off. Metkel’s teammate was his fellow countryman, Meron Teshome, who was driving the chasing peloton.

However, Meron and the Peloton were unable to catch the break-away group so as to lend a hand (‘leg’) to his fellow teammate. Metkel had to hold the three Bonita riders on his own for a long haul. Dylan Girdlestone, who peeped Metkel at the last Tour of Rwanda, was amongst the three Bonita riders (alongside with Kruger and Hendricks.) Despite out-numbered by 3 to 1, Metkel had still won leaving the Bonita trios for dead to show them who the real boss was. His fellow countryman and teammate, Meron Teshome, had also sprinted to finish 5th by winning amongst the bunched peloton to finish in 5th place.

Continued Eritrean Success:

Only a month before that was also an unforgettable historic win that saw Natnael Berhane emphatically winning, what is dubbed as Africa’s own “Tour de France“, at the 2014 Amissa Bongo’s Tour of Gabon. FreQalsi Debessay himself is remembered to have won a historic stage-4 in the same tour of Gabon this year.

Again another week before that, Daniel Teklehaymanot had a great run in the EuroTour of Veulta a Catalunya.

Also two months prior to that, Eritrean riders across the board (Men and women), who took part in the continent’s most important fixture of the CAC (continental African Championship), cleared up the board winning almost everything on offer in Sharme el-Shirkh, Egypt for the fourth year running.

Wehazit, Tsehainesh, Yerusalem and Senait for the Eri-women in the TTT as well as Tesfom, Daniel, Natnael, Meron Ressom and Meron Teshome in all categories (TTT, ITT and RR) had come with a record 12 Gold medals between them including the for U23s.

Not long before that, last summer four major wins were registered by Eri-athletes in Europe and EuroTours. Merhawi himself, on his debut in Europe and in a space of only two weeks, had registered two great wins in Italy and France, respectively.

Daniel, who was Eritrea’s first ever pro rider, Eritrea’s first Olympian and first black African grand world tour rider, had also won a great 1:1 category EuroTour challenge quite comfortably in Spain. That was despite lacking race practices for over six months following his record hatrick in the ITT triumph of the 2012 CAC held in Ouagadougou the previous year.

Yet again, two months prior to that, the great Natanel Berhane had proven his talent by beating everyone including an EPO (illegal performance enhancing drug) pumped up cheater in the punishing Queen’s stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey, which was eventually won by Natnael in the final championship.

Genting Mountain Stage -4

The Genting mountain summit finish of stage-4 at the 2014 Tour de Langkawi has turned the GC almost upside down. The new GC before and after the Genting climb of stage-4 can be seen below.

GC AFTER today’s stage-4 of Genting summit finish

Pos Prev Rider Team Time
1 (82)  Mirsamad Poorseyed’r  Tabriz  @12:09:21
2 (32)  Merhawi Kudus  MTN  @0:08
3 (61)  Isaac Bolivar Hernadez  UnitedHC  @0:11
4 (63)  Johan E Chavez Rubio  OGE  @0:20
5 (55)  Petr Ignatenko  Katusha  @0:36
6 (12)  Jacques V Rensburg  MTN  @0:40
7 (66)  Steven Kruijswijk  Belkin  @0:52
8 (30)  Gianfranco Zilioli  Androni  @1:09
9 (71)  GHAFFARI Vahid Ghaffari  Tabriz  @1:27
10 (48)  Carlos Quintero  Colombia  @1:42

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GC AFTER today’s stage-4

Pos Prev Rider Team Time
1 (1)  DUBER Quintero  Colombia  @9:13:10
2 (3)  MATTHEW Brammeier  Synergy  @0:19
3 (2)  CLARKE Jonathan  UnitedHC  @0:22
4 (4)  GOH Choon Huat  Singapore  @0:33
5 (5)  BOS Theo  Belkin  @1:21
6 (62)  GUARDINI Andrea  Astana  @1:27
7 (6)  KHOSROSHAHI Behnam  Tabriz  @1:28
8 (52)  RABOU Thomas  Singapore  @1:29
9 (7)  BROWN Graeme  Belkin  @1:31
10 (8)  ASADOV Elchin  Synergy
11 (51)  MARTINEZ Yannick  Europcar  @1:33
12 (96)  JACQUES Rensberg MTN
18 (15)  REGUIGUI Youcef  MTN  @1:37
25 (22)  AUGUSTYN John Lee  MTN
28 (24)  Louis Meintjes  MTN
32 (32)  KUDUS Merhawi  MTN
40 (28)  BERHANE Natnael  Europcar
41 (33)  GRMAY Tsgabu  MTN
72 (44)  GUILLEMOIS Romain  Europcar
80 (90)  KERN Christophe  Europcar
84 (91)  DUCHESNE Antoine  Europcar
89 (95)  LAMOISSON Morgan  Europcar
(115)  BEWLEY Sam  OGE  @8:18
(68)  BELLINI Gianni  Yellow Flou  @19:20

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Not much change in the GC after stage – 6

The only difference in the GC in the top 10 is the replacement or displacement of Duber Quintero at the expense Louis Meintjes of Team MTN Qhubeka. It was remembers that Louis Quentero had been wearing the leader’s yellow jersey for up until the 4th stage before he was forced to relinquish his lead.

Proven Climbers:

Merhawi and Natnael were already expected to excel at Tour de Langkawi’s most decisive climbing stage last Sunday but the other great climber, Natnael hasn’t featured in the top 10 this time. The Genting summit finish was indeed a very tough stage and it was a relief seeing Merhawi finishing in the top, after successfully clawing up the punishing Genting climb. The last few Kms of the Genting climb rises up just over 1600m, almost similar to that of the Sey-Dici-Shegerini Climb of the 2350m Massawa-Asmara race course back in their native Eritrea.

Natanel Berhane had famously won the toughest Massawa-Asmara climb by opening almost a huge four minute gap ahead of the chasing peloton in the 2010 Tour of Eritrea but, ironically, today he finds himself four minutes adrift in a relatively easier climb. Natnael was only 20 years of age at the time, which is the same age as Merhawi today.

Consistency:

After the last three stages before today’s Genting climb, both Merhawi and Natnael had got off to a good start and had shown consistency in finishing with the main peloton before the grueling summit finish of Genting mountain.

A tricky first stage last Thursday:

The first of the gruelling 10 stages has been a tricky one last Thursday after seeing 5 riders breaking away from the get go of the rather shortest race course of just over 100km. Surprisingly four of them held off pressure from the chasing peloton and were able to finally cross the finish line just in time before getting caught by the chasing peloton.

Both Merhawi and Natnael racing for MTN Qhubeka and Team Europcar, respectively, were both amongst the aggressively chasing peloton, consisting of a strong 92 out of a total of 125 rider. The peloton, who were unable to reel back the four struggling escapees, have finally succumbed to 1:18 time deficit.

Time Gap and Bonus Points:

After collecting all the mountains and sprint bonuses between themselves, the escapees had not mustered much of a gap in terms of time with respect to the main peloton.

Earlier in the year at the Amissa Bongo tour of Gabon, Natanel was amongst the group of three escapees (along with the two Spaniards, Garcia & Sanchez) and had managed to stretch the time gap to a huge 18 minutes with respect to the slow moving peloton. Comparatively, the time gap of the stage-1 escapees of the tour de Langkawi, was so short at only a minute and half. After the finish line, the break-away escapees had also managed to squeeze the chasing peloton from 92 to a strong 77 in the GC.

First Stage Crush:

Talk of the four brave escapees, another four rider amongst the peloton weren’t as lucky. They were involved in a crush but their luck wasn’t as bad as it had looked. The fact that they had crushed within the last 1Km to the finish line, they were all awarded the same time as that of the time of the main peloton’s. Jacque Van Rensberg of MTN Qhubeka was amongst the ‘unlucky’ lucky ones. Jacque had started the tour as a Team leader for MTN Qhubeka. (Please see the standing after the first stage)

Stage-1 result after the success of the 4 escapees

Pos Rider Team Time
1  Duber Quintero  Colombia  @2:21:40
2  Matthew Brammeier  Synergy BCP  @0:11
3  Jonathan Clarke  UnitedHC  s.t.
4  Choon Huat Goh  Singapore  @0:15
5  Andrea Guardini  Astana  @1:18
6  Anuar Manan  Terengganu  s.t.
7  Kenny V Hummel  Androni  s.t.
8  Michael Kolar  Tinkoff-Saxo  s.t.
9  Michael Scweizer  Synergy BCP  s.t.
10  Aidis Kroupis  Orica-GE  s.t.
13  Yannick Martinez  Europcar  s.t.
18  Youcef Reguigui  MTN  s.t.
21  MERHAWI KUDUS  MTN  s.t.
33  John Augustyn  MTN  s.t.
35  Louis Meintjes  MTN  s.t.
37  NATNAEL BERHANE  Europcar  s.t.
51  Tsgabu Grmay  MTN  s.t.
115  J V Rensberg  MTN  @1:18
123  Suhardi Hassan  Malaysia  @13:39
OLT  Amirul Anuar Jafri  Malaysia  OLT
OLT  Rob Gitelis  CCN-CT  OTL

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OTLs above are rider eliminated because of their time lapse outside the 12% of the winner’s time, which is @just over 14minutes.

To follow live updates on the gruelling 230km stage-7 later today, please tune in to the official twitter page(@myltdl)

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