Eritrean Cycling Championship 2022: The Organization, the Intensity, the Sportsmanship, the Fans…What a Race!

By Mussie Efriem

The 2022 Eritrean Road Cycling Championship was conducted on 24 and 26 June in the capital Asmara, where tens of thousands of cycling fans swarmed the streets to watch the race. In addition to those who were in the streets for the race, the Eritrean national television, Eri-TV, also broadcast the championship live, where fans within the country and abroad watched. Nine Eritrean professional cyclists from differ­ent clubs participated at the championship, many of whom were engaged in major world tour competitions this year with outstanding performances. Although Merhawi Kudus, the Olympian and professional cyclist from EF Education-EasyPost club, relinquished his time trial tittle to Biniam Girmay on 24 June, he came in stronger on Sunday’s Road Race and managed to finish the 172km race in a two-man breakaway and held-off the series of attacks from the peloton. Merhawi became 2022 national cycling champion after his breakaway companion, Natnael Tesfatsion, backed down in the sprint to mark his respect for Merhawi, who had done almost all the work in the wind. The following is a brief interview we conducted with Merhawi Kudus a few minutes after he became the champion.

  • Congratulations Mera! You won the 2022 Eritrean Cycling Championship. This year’s championship was highly anticipated by many cycling fans because most of the Eritrean professional cyclists were amongst the line-up for the championship and most of them had a very good year in many major competitions around the world, while the local players have been preparing for this for a long time, so how does it feel to come out stronger?

Indeed, this is big and the feeling is amazing. The Eritrean Cycling Championship is definitely the biggest competition in our country and of course it has now become quite some time since the competition garnered continental and international attention. It was anticipated from the very beginning that it was going to be a tough competition and accordingly the 172km race was full of unrelenting attacks in every step of it. Hence, I am honored to be crowned the Eritrean Champion of 2022 after such a tough competition; it is unbelievable.

  • You and Natnael Tesfatsion were in the two-man breakaway for almost 65% of the race. Don’t you think it was a risky move to make?

Well, that wasn’t the first time I made such a move. I used the same tactic in many of the races I competed. But indeed today’s breakaway was a bit longer and harder. At first Natnael Berhane was in the breakaway with us before he had an unfortunate flat tyre. At that time, we were not sure as to what our next move would be, whether to wait for him to catch up so as he could help us at the long breakaway or to keep on pedaling and maintain the gap we made. But the first choice of waiting for him was too risky because the gap between us and the chasing group was getting closer. That’s why we decided to keep going. I took charge of the hard work because Natnael was not feeling good. So I took the responsibility of keeping the pace for the rest of the race, and it was really hard to ride the rest of the race almost all by myself. Besides, in the final two laps I was not confident about my tyres but I kept on riding carefully anyways and we finally did it.

  • What was your observation of the young local riders?

It was them who started attacking from the beginning of the race, and this is the greatest race of our country that has high intensity with a long distance riding of 172 kms. Even though most of them were young and they only participated in the local races, their performance was outstanding. This is a clear indication that the country has a lot of potential in cycling. On top of that, it’s an opportunity for them to gauge their performance and look forward for a breakthrough to international competitions.

  • What impact will your victory at the national championship have in your current club’s position?

It’s a great thing. I have added another important stage win for my club and this in itself has its own value. In addition, Eritrean cyclists have clinched so many great victories at international races and I am grateful to be the champion of a country whose riders are amongst the big cycling names around the world.

  • Ok Merhawi, who do you want to dedicate your victory to?

It is so hard to say, but I dedicated my previous victory to my mother for her unyielding support in all possible ways. And now I would like to dedicate this year’s victory to the Kudus family (my entire family) for they have always been on my side and giving me endless support.

  • Is there anything else that you would like to say at the end?

First thanks be to God, we smoothly and safely finished the race. There wasn’t any accident everything was in order as always; and the fans were supportive. But it was also a great thing that the race was broadcast live through Eri-TV so that everybody could watch at every corner of the country and the world, and many people have been calling from abroad to congratulate me. But overall it’s a great honor for us, especially the professional cyclists for our nation’s media to give the a live coverage, it really makes us proud to talk about it with our international friends. This increases our moral energy to do better. So I would like to thank all members of the Ministry of Information who helped broadcast the event for such long hours, and all those who came out to the streets to cheer for us starting from daybreak.

  • Thank for your time Mera and Congratulations once again.