By World Cycling Centre (WCC),
“I’m so happy to be here. It’s like home to me,” says the 23-year-old Eritrean, who was a trainee at the World Cycling Centre (WCC) in 2011 and 2012. “It’s good to train here in the mountains for the Vuelta.”
Natnael Berhane first arrived at the WCC in Aigle (Switzerland) in March 2011, determined to chase his dream of joining the professional peloton. His progress was dazzling, and in 2013 he signed his first professional contract with UCI ProTeam Europcar. He has already made waves with overall wins in the 2013 Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey and in the 2014 Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon.
The Vuelta a España, which gets underway on August 23rd, will be his first Grand Tour:
“For the last five years I have watched it every year on TV. In 2012 I started to imagine and hope that one day I would be there on the start line. It’s a dream come true.”
Before then, from August 12th to 16th, he will compete in the Tour de l’Ain, in France, and has chosen the World Cycling Centre to put the finishing touches to his preparation for the two stage races. His delight at returning to his former training
ground is heightened by the fact that a group of trainees from the World Cycling Centre in Africa is also based in Aigle this summer. It was Jean-Pierre Van Zyl, Director of the WCC’s African satellite in Potchefstroom, South Africa, who detected Natnael Berhane’s talent and sent him to Switzerland to train under the guidance of Jean-Jacques Henry.
The Eritrean hopes that his fellow Africans currently training in Switzerland will be able to follow in his footsteps: “It’s very important for African riders to train here (in Europe) where they can race and win UCI points.
“It‘s a bit hard at first being away from your family,” recalls the Team Europcar rider. “But if you have a dream and you are motivated it’s fine. Now it is my second family here.”
This week, between “such beautiful” rides in the mountains, he is catching up with that second family, and also had the chance to talk to UCI President Brian Cookson.
“He sent me an e-mail of congratulations after the Tour of Gabon, and I met him briefly at the African Championships but I was so happy to be able to talk to him this week. I hope he will see me become a very good rider.”
The UCI President welcomed the opportunity to talk to the former WCC trainee: “We are always pleased to see our former trainees coming back and we do what we can to help them. Natnael already has an impressive list of achievements and I’m sure we’re going to see more great results from him in the future. It’s great to see our former trainees reach the highest level of professional road cycling,” said Mr Cookson.
Life as a professional cyclist is certainly one that suits the young African: “It’s very hard. We train very hard to prepare races but it’s the life I want. My dream is coming true.”