Ethiopian cyclists are breaking onto the international scene. But it’s only the beginning.
The sun shone brightly on the streets of Mekelle, which lay quiet on a sleepy Saturday morning in June 2013. The morning chill bit as I got on my bicycle and headed south to the town of Alamata, a 175-kilometer pull over smooth tarmac roads that wound amid the peaks of northern Ethiopia, skirting the arid lowlands to the east. The ride offered everything: steep climbs around hairpin switchbacks, delirious white-knuckle descents, and roadside camel trains ambling along under bluebird skies.
On the way out, I fell in with a group of local cyclists. A pair of elite riders on quality road bikes led, trailed closely by a few up-and-comers. In the rear rode teenagers on cheap, ill-fitting mountain bikes, pedaling furiously and trying mightily to keep pace. This is how it starts, I thought. Find a bike — any bike — and pedal like hell. Maybe someone will notice and give you a nicer bike. Then you’ll be on your way.
The strong lead rider rode for a team in South Africa, and it was clear that he could blow this ride apart at will. Named Tsgabu Grmay, he was a success story in Ethiopia at the time — and even more so now.
Today, the 24-year-old Tsgabu rides in Europe for Lampre-Merida, an elite team currently ranked ninth in the world. In May, he became the first black African ever to ride in the Giro d’Italia. The Giro joins with the Tour de France and the Vuelta de España to form the prestigious Grand Tours of cycling, celebrated multiweek races that represent the pinnacle of the sport.
At the 2015 Africa Continental Road Championships in February, he also qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And he wasn’t alone. On the women’s side, Hadnet Asmelash, a 22-year-old with hardly any international racing experience, burst out of nowhere to claim a qualifying spot as well. Together, they will be the first Ethiopians ever to ride in the Olympics.
Read more at: Selamta Magazine