This article is an abridged version of an article published in Issue 118: the Classics. To support our independent journalism and read more about the Classics, subscribe to Rouleur to receive your edition featuring exclusive interviews with Liane Lippert and Imanol Erviti.
Cycling is actually one of the biggest sports in Eritrea, maybe even number one. And it was always a big sport in my family. My dad loved cycling, and almost every weekend there was a race nearby and my dad would take me to see it. And my older brother actually raced. I would wash his bike or go watch him train. That said, my first sport was football, and I was always playing with my friends. But as time went on, I got more and more into cycling, first simply by riding around, and then I started racing when I was already 12.
My father has been my biggest inspiration. He is a great dad. He is a carpenter and he really loved the family and his kids and he really taught me the need to work hard and be humble. In Eritrea, family comes first and he always kept us together as a family, as friends and even as part of the business. He is a really big part of my success. He is my hero.
I would not be where I am today if it were not for a lot of Eritrean riders before me. Most recently there are guys like Daniel Teklehaimanot, Natnael Berhane or Merhawi Kudus. But even before that, there were a lot of riders in my country that were just really good, but they didn’t have the means to become professional. We have a really long history of cycling. A lot of Italians settled in Eritrea and they brought cycling with them, so cycling has real roots there.
When you race in Europe young, you race like a European. I was very lucky to be able to start racing in Europe at a very young age. That is something that a lot of my countrymen did not have. But I was fortunate. After I won the junior African championships
I was invited to be a member of the UCI development team, and that is what started my career in Europe. To be honest, after the first week at the UCI World Cycling Centre, I wanted to go home. Everything was so structured. Breakfast was at 7:00 am and at 7:30 it was finished. Lunch was the same. It was really hard to adjust. I was really close to my family and it was not easy to be away from them. But once I actually started racing things got easier.