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Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.
Eritrea is fast becoming a prominent force in world cycling.
Since Daniel Teklehaimanot’s breakthrough rides at the 2012 Vuelta a España and 2015 Tour de France, the tide of Eritrean riders joining the upper echelons of the sport does not look like it will relent any time soon.
There are currently six riders from the African nation in the top two tiers of cycling and three of them are set to ride the Giro d’Italia – more than for Canada and almost as many as the U.S.
One of those flying the Eritrean flag in Italy will be up and coming GC talent Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, who is riding for Trek-Segafredo to support pre-race favorite Vincenzo Nibali. It is his third grand tour after a previous Giro appearance and one ride at the Vuelta a España.
“I am excited for the Giro. I am confident that I am in my best ever shape, more than at any time,” Ghebreigzabhier told VeloNews on the eve of the race. “It is one of the hardest races in my life, but I also enjoy the race.
“I am here to work for Vincenzo Nibali and I’m really happy to work for him. He is a nice person and leader so I will give everything for him.”
While he might be working for Nibali, Ghebreigzabhier could be given some freedom to race on a day where the GC contenders are unlikely to cross swords. Ghebreigzabhier is still searching for his first ever professional win, outside of his national championships, and he’s keen as ever to ensure 2021 is the year.
“For sure, to win a stage of a race this year would be my main goal. I was in good shape and my morale and I have a lot of motivation. Maybe in the Giro I can win a stage,” he laughed.
From Eritrea to the WorldTour
Ghebreigzabhier is a fourth-year professional after stepping up to WorldTour level with the Dimension Data squad, like many of his compatriots, in 2018. His English is spoken with an Italian lilt thanks to several years of living near the team’s base in Lucca.
Right from his debut in the WorldTour, Ghebreigzabhier has shown promise as a stage racer and overall contender with top 10 finishes in the youth classification at the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphiné in 2018. The following year he was able to climb with the best to finish sixth overall at the Vuelta a Burgos just over a minute behind winner Iván Sosa.
His performances caught the eye of Trek-Segafredo. He transferred to the squad during the winter and has been fast-tracked into Nibali’s support line-up. The move was something of a full circle for Ghebreigzabhier who began riding on the equipment from the American manufacturer.
“My first bike was a Trek,” Ghebreigzabhier said. “Trek is a very famous bike in Eritrea. A lot of riders ride Trek in Eritrea and all of the local teams are using it and so is the national team.”
Ghebreigzabhier was introduced to cycling as a teenager by a friend and began riding on mountain bikes before he turned his attention to the road. His formative cycling years coincided with Teklehaimanot’s breakout on the world stage, and he has fond memories of the climber returning to his home country to race against the local riders.
“I have a lot of memories from riding in local races in Eritrea when I was young. I remember seeing a lot of riders there, especially Daniel Teklehaimanot,” he said. “At the time, he was racing for the GreenEdge team.
“It was great because he had gone from racing locally in Eritrea to racing with GreenEdge in the WorldTour. He raced with local riders and the local riders used to fight against him. I have a lot of good memories about him in Asmara in Eritrea.”
The growing number of Eritrean riders in the peloton provides a sense of national pride for Ghebreigzabhier but it also gives him a sense of normality and home. For the Italian, French, German, Dutch and English speakers, finding another to converse in your native language is easy.
It can be easy to take for granted but when you don’t speak one of the core languages of the peloton, finding a fellow speaker can be priceless.
“There are two other Eritrean riders in the peloton at the Giro d’Italia and it’s really good for me especially because if you know there are other Eritrean riders in the peloton then I can speak my language,” he said. “I miss speaking my own language sometimes. Sometimes, if you have relaxation time you can speak with them. That’s important to me to speak my language. I’m really happy to race with them.”