20 YEAR old Merhawi Kudus has just started his 2nd year as a professional with MTN – Qhubeka. In his first year we saw some impressive performances, he finished 2nd in the GC of the Tour de Langkawi, and was climbing with guys such as Valverde in the Route du Sud. Kudus also had some set backs with crashes in 2014 but he showed strong will power and always kept fighting. Merhawi dreams to compete with the very best of the sport and we have a feeling this dream might become reality real soon!
Lets start at the beginning. At what age did you start cycling and how did you get into cycling?
I started cycling at the of age of 13 riding on my mountain bike. Cycling is a very popular sport in Eritrea, it is like what football is in Brazil. Wherever you go you see guys doing races, so I grew up watching cycling.
You joined the UCI World Cycling Centre team, how did they get in contact with you? and how did you experience your time for this team?
It was a continuation of opportunities given by the World Cycling Centre to Eritrean riders, Daniel (Teklehaimanot) and Natnael (Berhane) joined this centre with cooperation of the National Federation, I joined the centre after staying in South Africa. The UCI team was a good team. We were all young riders from different countries and had a wonderful coach.
You then joined MTN – Qhubeka at the start of 2014, you are now a little over a year with this team, what are your thoughts about this team?
I am happy to be member of this team, and I hope our team will be one of the greatest cycling teams in the sport.
Let’s talk about your previous season, a year with some ups and downs for you I imagine. You started the season very strong in Langkawi where you finished 2nd on the famous stage to Genting Highlands, and also finished 2nd in the GC. Was it surprising for you that you were already this close to winning in your first pro race?
I was happy and I was in good shape and I always had the winning mentality.
Is the Tour of Langkawi a race where you hope to go back some day to fight for the win?
Yes, I would like to go back there and fight for the win.
You just turned 20 and you already got to ride Milan San-Remo, the longest race in distance from the professional calendar. Besides that the race is extra special to your team as Ciolek managed to win Milan San-Remo in 2013. You finished the race which we think is quiet an achievement for a 20 year old. How was it to ride in your first monument, and how did you handle the distance?
It was difficult, but I had to finish it, it was my first World Tour race and I was determined to have a good start in the World Tour.
At the end of April you rode in the Tour of Turkey where you were the leader for MTN – Qhubeka. You had bad luck with a few crashes and unfortunately had to abandon. As you seemed to be in a really good condition this must have been hard on you?
I really wanted to win the Tour of Turkey. It was a sad moment that I had to leave the race.
Then at the end of June, you showed to be back at a very high level, you finished 5th in the final general classification of the Route du Sud. You also finished 5th in the queen stage in a small elite group with superstars like Valverde and Rogers. Was this a surprise to you? Or did you know you could climb with guys of this level?
It really was a surprise. And I learned that I could do better then I expected.
At the end of the year MTN – Qhubeka got into the Vuelta a Espana, you as a 20 year old got a ride in one of the biggest cycling events in the world! Unfortunately you had some hard crashes at the start of the Vuelta. We heard some stories that the team wanted you to quit the race, is this true?
I was very happy to participate in the Vuelta a Espana, because I never expected to already ride this race in my first year as a professional. I had crashes which had a bad influence on my performance.
Before the race started my team adviced me to quit the Vuelta a Espana after 10 stages, but I decided to finish.
You still finished the Vuelta a Espana despite your injuries. What are your overall thoughts about your first Grand Tour? And do you think you have gotten stronger by finishing the race?
I think I will benefit from last years Vuelta, and that I am now stronger as I was last year.
In 2015 you will start your season in the Vuelta a Andalucia. You will be (one of) the team leader(s) for the GC. You will be riding against the absolute best in the world (Contador, Froome, Quintana). What are you hoping to show in this race?
I hope I will perform well in the Vuelta a Andalucia.
Do you already know more about what races you will ride after the Vuelta a Andalucia, and if so can you tell us which races you will do?
I will do the African Championship, a few days after that the Vuelta a Andalusia starts . It is a dream of every African cyclist to become African champion.
Team MTN – Qhubeka received a wildcard for the Tour de France are you already dreaming to start in the biggest race of the world?
I will never forget the moment, when I will be at the starting line.
What are your goals going into the Tour de France?
I hope I will perform well and have an easier time then I had during the Vuelta a Espana.
MTN – Qhubeka will be the first African team in the Tour de France, what kind of impact do you think this will have on African cycling in general?
I think it would open opportunities for African teams and riders. Not only for grand tour but cycling as a sport.
What are your main goals for the 2015 season?
To be one of the main challengers.
In 2014 you already showed you are a very strong rider in the mountains and on the tougher hills. Are you aiming to be a grand tour contender in the future or do you have other long term goals?
I have always dreamed to be a great contender and I will never forget my dream.
Thanks for your time Merhawi and we are looking forward to see you shine in the future!
Thank you very much!