CyclingPub Interview - Merhawi Kudus: Eritrean cycling is developing very well
Mar 05 2019 07:20 pm CET

CyclingPub Interview - Merhawi Kudus: Eritrean cycling is developing very well
CyclingPub Interview - Merhawi Kudus: Eritrean cycling is developing very well
Merhawi Kudus © Mary Cárdenas /

Merhawi Kudus was one of the first members of the 'Eritrean wave' of riders to make their way to cycling's top level.

The 25-year-old recently joined Astana Pro Team and has already proven to be a valuable asset for his new team with an overall victory in the Tour du Rwanda - his first ever in a UCI stage race, in addition to winning two stages.

The Eritrean champion seems to be in great shape, also thanks to Astana's preparation in Spain throughout the winter. CyclingPub had an opportunity to speak to Kudus during the winter camp in Calpe, Spain.

Can you tell me why you decided to switch teams after five years at Dimension Data?

Yes, I spent five years there, having joined in 2014 when I became a professional. I had a really good time with them but after five years I need to keep developing. Dimension Data became more focused on one-day races and sprints, which is why I decided to change to Astana and improve with the GC guys.

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Merhawi Kudus (Astana Pro Team)

What do you think you can learn at Astana?

At Astana there are a lot of climbers and GC riders, so I can definitely learn and improve a lot here in that regard.

Were you also looking at other teams or did you always know that Astana was the right place to go?

I was looking at different teams that were focused on GC's and climbers. But in the end, I decided to go with Astana.

Did the presence of Alexandr Vinokurov at Astana play a role as well, given that he was a climber and GC rider himself?

Yes. He has a lot of experience and knows a lot about cycling. That's also why the team is improving and has such a good atmosphere. They have a lot of experience in riding for GC's. That's why I'm happy to join this team.

Do you already know a bit more about your schedule for the next few months?

After Rwanda I will do Catalonia, Romandie, Turkey and Norway. I'm a reserve for the Giro.

You mention Rwanda. Most riders also get to race more in their home countries or at least their home continents. Do you miss riding in Africa?

Well, I never really had the opportunity to race much there as I joined the World Cycling Center in 2013, in Switzerland. I joined the professionals very fast, so I could not go back to African races, unfortunately.

But you do like to race there?

Yes, I do really like it.

Can you tell me how it is different to race in Africa?

It's totally different. Especially the level here in Europe is quite high and the amount of riders. There are also a lot of traffic islands, it goes up and down a lot. In Africa it's not like that. The peloton normally will be about a 100 guys. Looking at races like Rwanda and Gabon, the level is totally different.

What about your own country, Eritrea. Do you see further development there?

Yes, it's developing very well. We have five professional riders, even six or seven if you include the professional continental teams. You can see the country growing slowly. We have a lot of talented guys for the future. Cycling is one of the biggest sports in Eritrea. We have local races every Sunday. I see it improving slowly.

Was it already popular before you and people like Daniel (Teklehaimanot) joined the professional level?

Yes. Daniel was the first professional rider. Natnael (Berhane) was the second and then I was the third. Until then there wasn't so much of a cycling culture yet.

How did the people close to you in Eritrea react to your career in Europe?

They supported me a lot and encouraged me. I became famous in Eritrea, especially after I took part in the Tour de France. I got a massive welcoming by the president and all the ministers. Everyone knows me now. I really appreciate that.

You also took part in the World Championships last year, representing your country.

Yes. I qualified and Amanuel (Gebreigzabhier) became the African champion and earned direct qualification as well. So, we were two guys. Honestly, it was the hardest race. Close to 5000 climbing meters. But I did very well, except on the penultimate climb I struggled a bit. I was happy to finish the race and to have participated. I learned a lot as well. I really liked it.

Do you already know a bit more about what you want to achieve this season?

The biggest goal is to get a stage victory in grand tours. I'm not confirmed for any of the grand tours yet but I hope to ride them.

How did you get into cycling in the first place?

In Eritrea when I was at school I went by bike, so I competed with my friends. I kind of started like this, and then took part in local races every Sunday. That's how I became interested.

Were there scouts from Aigle, or did you come to Europe? How did that go?

I got an invitation when I became an Under-23 national champion. After that I race in Rwanda and Gabon and then I got the opportunity to come here.

What would you say has been your highlight so far?

I always work hard to achieve my goal. Last year I came so close, finishing second in a Vuelta stage. After that I had a massive crash and that meant the end of the season. I tried really hard to get a stage victory but unfortunately, I couldn't. But with my new team I'm confident for the next races.

Do you expect to have more of a free role here, allowing you to go for stage victories?

It depends on the situation. You never ride 21 days for one guy. At some point you need to have at least two different options, so it depends. You never know. If you wear the Yellow Jersey, you always have to defend.

By Jonathan Roorda




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