Part of a 2nd generation of African cyclists, Amanuel is forging a path for those who follow
Among the 54 countries that make up Africa, there is one that rivals Belgium and the Netherlands in terms of cycling passion. In Eritrea, children dream about becoming pro cyclists instead of soccer stars. Such was the vision for Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier.
“In Eritrea, the bicycle is part of our daily life,” Amanuel says. “It is the favorite game of many children and the means by which thousands of people, every day, move around. It is Africa’s happy island of the bike.
“I remember, when I was a child, I used to sit by the side of the road in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea and the city where I grew up, watching cycling races. The most important ones attracted so many people! These were, and still are, very popular events. In those years the bike was just a game for me. Then, as a teenager, thanks to a friend who practiced mountain biking, I began to look at the bike with a different eye. I accompanied him in his training and the bike became my favorite sport. After a couple of years, I joined the main national cycling club, As.Be.Co, and started competing. I was 15 years old.”
Cycling in Eritrea grew from a vestige of colonial Italy. And although many signs of that colonial past are gone, Eritreans have claimed cycling as part of their modern culture. In the new millennium, the country gained notoriety alongside the African cycling movement.
“The growth of the MTN-Qhubeka project, Africa’s first team, brought a lot of people to follow the races on TV. My teammates and I would follow together the most important races. The Northern Classics were and still are the ones I like the most, but the Tour de France was the most awaited event. You can’t imagine enthusiasm following the Eritrean riders, Daniel Teklehaimanot, Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane. It was like the spark for me.
“In those same years I also started to go outside the national borders, thanks to the Eritrean selection, and to become aware of my potential. In Eritrea every weekend there were competitions, but to improve I wanted to race the most important events on the continent. In 2013, I raced at Tour of Rwanda, and the following year, at the age of 20, I won the national title, the most beautiful cycling memory I have so far.”
“In 2014, I also raced my first World Championship in Ponferrada, and I took part in the most important competitions in Africa. I started to learn about the world outside my country and I raised the bar of my ambitions. I have always tried to set concrete goals in my life and once achieved, to continuously set new ones. In 2016, I was ready for a new leap forward, joining the Dimension Data’s development team and moving to Europe.
“Away from Eritrea, my life has always been marked by the rhythms of cycling. We lived in a team house in Lucca, Italy. We were all young and ambitious guys. We helped each other; it was a great experience. Our passion for cycling was the key that helped us adapt to a new country. Italy has a great cycling culture, and we were comfortable with it. However, with no disrespect to my Italian friends, between Italy and Eritrea, there is a gulf in respect for cycling: riding in Asmara is a paradise compared to Lucca!
“Cycling has also given me the opportunity to travel a lot in Europe and Africa, to learn about a world different from my own. Of course, I feel the distance from home and sometimes this brings a bit of nostalgia, but the idea of discovering new places and new cultures fascinates me so much.”
With a ready-for-anything attitude, Amanuel earned his place among the pros in 2018 with a move up to Dimension Data’s WorldTour team. In 2021, he joined the Trek-Segafredo family.
“In the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to test myself in increasingly important races and to understand my attitude for Grand Tours. I will always be grateful to Dimension Data team for this opportunity. However, I felt the need to change, to try a new experience. I wanted to measure myself with a new challenge. Trek-Segafredo was the best solution I could aspire to. In addition to the high level of its structure, I always had the perception that it was a beautiful environment to be part of. This year has been a pleasant confirmation. There’s a very familiar feeling, and then, you breathe a sense of globality, thanks to the presence of several nationalities, languages and cultures. It’s something special.”
In just a few years, Amanuel accomplished his personal goal of becoming a professional rider. Now he hopes to see more Eritreans and African riders follow the same path.
“Cycling is no longer a niche sport in Africa and I am part of the second generation of African riders. Year after year, the number of riders is increasing. It is an ongoing process, but the speed of the growth will depend a lot on the strength, capacity and choices of the national federations.
“There are some factors that need to be addressed if we want more and more young people to choose cycling — economic, first. In Europe and the US, for example, it is a popular and relatively non-expensive sport. In Africa, the concept is very different, and this is an obstacle to development. We need to start from here if we want to give a further impulse to the spread of a cycling sport culture.
“I think Africa is a beautiful continent for cycling. If I think about my home country, there are ideal conditions for professionals, including routes, reduced presence of cars and natural factors such as the altitude (Asmara has an altitude of 2,300 meters). Also, for this reason, although I like staying in Europe, I come back home as soon as I can, more or less every three months.
“I think the road to a future explosion of African cycling is mapped out. And I also want to hazard a prediction: it won’t be that much time before we’ll see an African rider being competitive in a Grand Tour. And I am convinced it will be an Eritrean!”