The World Cycling Centre in Africa achieved the best performance of its history by winning three out of the eight stages of the Tour of Rwanda last week, and wearing over two days the leaderâ€™s jersey in the overall rankings.
"Everybody thought we were going to win, but our riders are still very young and they were racing there essentially to learn," explained Jean-Pierre Van Zyl, the director of the African WCC satellite.
It was Merhawi Kudus from Eritrea who put in a particularly outstanding performance, by winning the first stage at Nyagatare ahead of his two breakaway companions and snatching the leaderâ€™s jersey after the fourth stage. The spectators were captivated by this multi-talented young rider, who is only 18 years of age, and for whom it was the first high-level race.
Kudus now has a bright future ahead, following in the tyre tracks of his fellow countrymen Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane, professionnal riders with Orica-GreenEdge and Europcar. His coaches are however keen to protect him from comparisons and pressure of all kinds, recalling his very young age and technical shortcomings. Always positioned in attack, even when he was leading in the rankings, Kudus was deprived of victory two stages from the finish by the Canadian rider Bruno Langlois... 15 years his senior.
Incidentally, during the Tour of Rwanda, the World Cycling Centre in Africa won the 2nd and 6th stages with 22-year-old Meron Amanuel, another rider from Eritrea.
The other members of the team were two Eritreans, Nahom Desale and Arha Debresay, and one Tanzanian, Richard Laizer.
"They were all very organised. They worked like a professional team and this is the most important thing for us," said Van Zyl. "Our team learned a lot, notably not to attack all the time! They were so happy to be there that they attacked too much but they will do better next time for sure!"
The riders had been identified during the Eritrea National Championships in 2011 and 2012, then coached during the training camp with the WCC satellite, at Potchefstroom in South Africa.
Three of them (Kudus, Meron, and Desale) will be part of the 2013 crew. From 1st January, the team will be called Team MTN-Qhubeka â€“ World Cycling Centre in Africa. It will effectively be the feeder team of Team MTN-Qhubeka, which is about to move up to the second division, the Pro Continental level. The group will feature thirteen riders from six countries, and will take part in an extended calendar of events, in Africa but also in Europe.
Photo: 2012 Tour of Rwanda/Mjrka Boensch Bees