By Bereket Kidane,
WHEN Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League Baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he was taunted and racially abused by white players who realized that their dominance of the sport was about to end. Today, only 60% of Major League Baseball players are white. The game’s top athletes are blacks from the Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The same thing will happen overtime to the UCI’s Grand Tours as well.
We are proud to witness that Eritrean athletes are the trail blazers at the forefront of that change led by great champion riders like Daniel Teklehaimanot, Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane. They deserve all the accolades and praises they are getting from the international media. They have put Eritrea on the cycling map of the world and have become “the talk of the town” at the Tour de France. Even the BBC couldn’t ignore what was happening and was forced to say something positive about Eritrea for a change.
African cycling has been made fun of in the past, but no longer. One has to be careful here when racially classifying people, of course, but there have been some North African riders from the Maghreb countries in the Grand Tour of Cycling before. In 1950, Abdel-Kader Zaaf, an Algerian who competed in the Tour de France, was cycling out front one day when extremely hot summer temperatures forced him to stop for a break. Abdel Kader Zaaf, a devout Muslim, was offered wine by a spectator (his first taste of alcohol) and passed out under a tree. When he woke up, he groggily climbed back on his bike, headed off in the wrong direction and was disqualified. Glad to see Eritrean athletes are not doing anything to embarrass themselves or their country.
For such a small country, Eritrea is becoming epic in the cycling world. Its cycling team is becoming among the best in the world winning jerseys and medals in top European contests. Per capita, Eritrea probably has the most cycling medals in international competitions. It’s unquestionably Africa’s Powerhouse and now has the King of the Mountain in Daniel Teklepolkadot.
Branislau Samoilau, his team CCC-Brandi-Polkowice and others better get used to seeing Eritrean riders in the Grand Tour. Eritrean participation in the Grand Tour is not likely to be a one-time thing. Eritrea is there to stay. There are more Eritrean riders waiting in the pipeline ready to follow in the footsteps of Daniel, Merhawi and Natnael and will likely join the Grand Tours in two to three years or less. Be on the lookout for Frekalsi Debesay, Meron Russom, Mekseb Debesay, Teklit Tesfay, Tesfom Okubamariam, Metkel Eyob, Meron Teshome and the rest of Team Eritrea that are racing for feeder teams. They are coming.