By Lovelyn Okafor,
Born January 5 1991, young Natnael Berhane has become a name to be reckoned with in professional cycling; a sport not very common in our part of the world.
Natnael made history for Eritrea and African cycling sport as the first cyclist from sub-Saharan Africa to win a major Hors over the years; first he was overall best in Tour of Eritrea, second overall in Tour of Rwanda, then in 2011, in the First African Road Race Championship, he was first over all in La Tropical Amissa Bongo and third overall in Tour d’Algerie.
In 2012, he made the first overall position in Tour d’Algerie and then the big one and in fact the latest, in 2013 the cycling giant hit the second overall position in Tour of Turkey. [Note: It has been confirmed by last week that Berhane is now the undisputed winner of the tour after the ex-winner Mustafa Sayar tested positive for doping]
The African champion is an Eritrean professional road bicycle racer for UCI Professional Continental Team Europcar. He is a two time African cycling champion in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, Berhane won the queen stage of the Tour of Turkey by powering away from the small lead group in the last 200 meters of a long, steep climb.
The shining star of professional cycling continues to make waves and also make Africa proud. He attributes his Turkey win to the inspiration he got from seeing a fellow African Tsgabu Grmay (MTN-Qhubeka) of Ethiopia, win a mountain stage on the Tour of Taiwan; I guess he thought , “if he could, why can’t I?”
It was a remarkable 3rd stage race and a revolutionary achievement for African cycling, when Natnael won the 3rd stage mountain race of the Presidential Tour of Turkey. In a dramatic finish, the champion moved into a lead group of four riders with about 3km left, and stayed seated as he powered up the steep road; which reminds me of the popular saying “it is not always the first to leave that wins the race.” The tour in Turkey was attended by 200 professional athletes from 25 competing teams cycling a distance of 1204 km from Alanya to Istanbul in Turkey.
Despite his wins and wide recognition, Natnael has remained humble and ever grateful “I’m also lucky to be able to race with stars like Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland, I’m doing all I can to become a rider like them. Europcar is a major team. Beforehand, I watched them on television and it’s very moving to think that now people in Africa can also watch me live on TV. They saw me win in Turkey and I received lots of messages of congratulations afterwards.”
This is just the beginning for the great champion, an indication of greater accomplishments to come. Africa says well done Natnael, and thank you for making Africa proud.