By Sophia Tesfamariam
Eritreans in the United States get to witness another historical milestone in Eritrea’s history as the Eritrean National Cycling Team participates in the UCI World Championship being held in Richmond, VA.
Whilst there have been Eritreans participating with non-Eritrean clubs in competitions held in the U.S. this is the first time that an Eritrean National Team of any kind has participated in an event being held in the United States.
Eritrea’s riders taking part in the championship include elite rider, Mekseb Debesay, and other four, riders, Merhawi Kudus, Metkel Eyob, Yonas Tekeste and Amanuel Gebregziabiher, who are in the under 23-age group.
As one of the 10 African states participating in the competition, with Mekseb Debessay the holder of the African Champion title amongst them, their fan base has expanded beyond the Eritreans, who will undoubtedly outnumber any fan bases at the Richmond competitions.
Eritreans came from far and near, driving from as far away as Tampa, Florida and flying in from the west coast of the United States. Having identified key position on the routes where they could capture a glimpse of the Eritrean riders, the flag draped “Eritrean Corner” has garnered the attention of both the commentators and the public, but more importantly, the Eritrean riders, who are always just an earshot away.
Curious spectators enquire about the nation and its cycling history, as cycling is considered to be a predominantly western sport, and all have been eager to hear the Eritrean cycling story and surprised by its long history.
The historical significance of their presence in the Richmond 2015 event is not lost on the hundreds of Eritreans present in Richmond. Thousands of pictures are being posted daily on the various social media sites, and in addition to the cherished memories of each encounter with the riders, they have greatly increased coverage of the Eritrean experience at UCI 2015. The riders are equally excited and have generously accommodated their fans who have come from near and far.
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While the other teams participating in the UCI 2015 spent their rest days sequestered in their hotel rooms, the small but tight knit Eritrean Community considering itself the rider’s primary hosts, welcomed them to their homes and have organized several dinners in their honor.
Eritrean Communities across the United States have also organized fundraising events in support of the nascent Eritrean Cycling Federation to ensure the development of such world class cyclists for the future. Understanding the unique and historical opportunities presented in Richmond 2015, both the young and the old collected autographs and other memorabilia from the riders, to hold on to, and share with friends and family.
The Eritrean riders and their fans will be the story at Richmond, 2015. As the leading Africans in all of the races, the riders have captured the attention and interest of both the sport commentators and spectators.
The fans have added to the color and sound of the event as they ululated and waved the Eritrean flag throughout the tour. The riders are collecting points to add to their already impressive world rankings, and the City of Richmond and its inhabitants are reaping the benefits of their presence, as they have been a thrill to watch and have added to the cycling fervor in the city.
The Eritrean cycling jersey is now recognized from afar and cycling is has become synonymous with Eritrea, as evidenced by the number of people who came to meet and greet the Eritrean riders and get their autographs.
The multiple wins in African and European cycling circuits has elevated the stature of Eritrea’s cyclists and cycling, no doubt their participation in UCI World Championships in Richmond, VA will make them household names with cycling aficionados for years to come.
— John van den Akker (@johnvandenakker) September 27, 2015