Eritrean looking for opportunities in the mountains
By Sam Dansie,
MTN-Qhubeka’s debut Vuelta a España squad was presented to the media yesterday and one of the main men in demand was Merhawi Kudus who, at 20, is the youngest rider in the race.
The Eritrean climber – one of three in the race, alongside team-mate Daniel Teklehaimanot and Europcar’s Natnael Berhane – said he was excited to be at the start of his first grand tour, and that he was very happy with his form and confidence after finishing fifth in the mountainous Route du Sud.
“Right now I’m really strong and I feel good,” he said. “It’s really super to be here and it’s really exciting to ride on this team. To find opportunities to ride a grand tour is not so easy.”
While this year’s Vuelta route, with its eight summit finishes, offers ample opportunity for pure climbers such as Kudus, he said he would have to give week one his full attention.
He said: “There are a lot of uphill stage finishes so there are a lot of opportunities for me especially in the second week with the hardest climbs, but we’ll have to see how I am feeling – I’ve never done more than ten days racing, so we will see.”
While he the youngster added he was confident, he said the level of competition was what made him most nervous: “It’s my first WorldTour stage race so the top riders are here for one of the hardest Vueltas, so to ride with them, to fight with them is going to be really hard.”
Kudus, a graduate of the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Academy, broke onto the professional scene with a second-place finish on the queen stage at the Tour of Langkawi in March – a result that also netted him second on the GC too.
After finishing fourth on the first mountain stage of the Tour of Turkey, Kudus was subsequently forced to abandon when he broke his collarbone during the final stage in early May. However, his recovery was rapid and six weeks later at the Route du Sud, he finished fifth and was the best young rider.
MTN-Qhubeka, is the first African-registered team to ride a Grand Tour and is fielding six grand tour debutants, including the South African national champion, Louis Meintjes, aged 22. The team is led by Spanish rider Sergio Pardilla, and includes the 2013 Milan-San Remo winner, Gerald Ciolek.
Team principal Doug Ryder said the team’s overall aim was to first to get as many riders as possible to the finish in Santiago de Compostela and animate the race by riding aggressively and infiltrating breaks.
The team starts its Vuelta campaign this evening with the 12.6km team time trial on Saturday.
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African Underdogs Impress at Vuelta Team Time Trial
The start of Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung’s first ever grand tour could not have gone any better. While Movistar came home fastest to win the stage and Cannondale and Orica-Greenedge were 2nd and 3rd respectively, Team MTN-Qhubeka blitzed home just 29 seconds down in 12th position.
Coming into the race as a wild card, Africa’s team were more or less expected to battle it out for the bottom 4 positions. This was not to be the case though. After being the only team to get shuttled to the start by horse and carriage, the Team MTN-Qhubeka riders hit the the course hard and fast.
Their 3 route recce’s after the past few days served the team well as they posted the first time of the day. Sitting on the bus watching the race we were expecting our time to tumble. When team after team finished and we had a faster time then they did, there was a huge eruption in jubilation.
Rider – Jay Thomson
Stage 1 of the Vuelta Espana is done and dusted. The team was incredible. We went out of the starting blocks like race horses and we were going really well. Then as the race goes, on a technical course like this you either on the giving end or receiving end and so yeah, a couple of us got spat out the back but it’s better to finish with 5 or 6 than to have all 9 riders still. It shows the team went full gas for everything. It was a great day and a great start, Sergio was at the front so we cant complain.
Director Sportif – Jens Zemke
Really we could not have asked for a better result. You can see there are big world tour teams behind us and even a team like Sky has only beaten us by 2 seconds. I am very happy with the boys performance and if you look at the crowds today, i don’t think you could have put more people on that course today. So we put on a great show and that is what we came to do.