Friday, May 31, 2013

Eritrean Natnael Berhane heading for WorldTour debut

Natnael Berhane celebrates his victory in stage 3 at the Tour of Turkey
Natnael Berhane  is set to make his debut in the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour this weekend as he lines up at the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné, in Champéry on Sunday. 
The 22-year-old Eritrean is racing his first season at the top level, and has already impressed with a stage victory in the Tour of Turkey, where became the first black African to win in an 'HC' ranked race and finished second overall.
On the steep, final climb to the top of the Göğübeli Pass, above the town of Elmali, Berhane tore himself away from the rest of the field 200 metres from the line and sprinted to victory. He lost the race lead to eventual winner Mustafa Sayar (Torku Seker Spor) on the second big mountain stage to Selçuk, but feels that the experience has prepared him for his biggest race yet.

“Since that win, I haven’t raced but I’m ready for the Dauphiné,” he explained at the GP Plumelec on Saturday, where he was working for Europcar sprinter Bryan Coquard.

“For me, the Dauphiné is going to be a brand new experience,” he continued. “I haven’t taken in part in a race as prestigious as this yet, but I can’t wait because there will be climbs and leading riders such as Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.”

Although Europcar remains at Professional Continental level, the Vendée team is one of the biggest in France, and so is all but assured of invitations to the country’s biggest races. This means that it is also home to some of France’s biggest riders, whom Berhane is now riding alongside.

“I’m also lucky to be able to race with stars like Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland,” he added. “I’m doing all I can to become a rider like them. Europcar is a major team. Beforehand, I watched them on television and it’s very moving to think that now people in Africa can also watch me live on TV.

“They saw me win in Turkey and I received lots of messages of congratulations afterwards”

Much of the inspiration for Berhane’s Turkey performance came from seeing fellow African Tsgabu Grmay (MTN-Qhubeka) of Ethiopia, win a mountain stage on the Tour of Taiwan.

“We spent two years together at the World Cycling Centre, first at Potchefstroem in South Africa then in Aigle, in Switzerland,” Berhane explained.

After realising his climbing talent in Turkey, the Dauphine’s white jersey has become a target for Berhane, but he will come up against some stiff competition from several other emerging riders, including Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) - who was second in Paris-Nice - Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) - who was fourth in Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth in la Flèche Wallonne - and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) - who was eighth in the Tour of Oman.

The route for the race was announced on 15 April 2013.
Stage Route Distance Type Date
1 Champéry (Switzerland) to Champéry (Switzerland) 121 km (75.2 mi) Medium-mountain stage 2 June
2 Châtel to Oyonnax 191 km (118.7 mi) Flat stage 3 June
3 Ambérieu-en-Bugey to Tarare 167 km (103.8 mi) Flat stage 4 June
4 Villars-les-Dombes to Parc des Oiseaux 32.5 km (20.2 mi) History.gif Individual time trial 5 June
5 Grésy-sur-Aix to Valmorel 139 km (86.4 mi) Medium-mountain stage 6 June
6 La Léchère to Grenoble 143 km (88.9 mi) Flat stage 7 June
7 Le Pont-de-Claix to SuperDévoluy 187.5 km (116.5 mi) Medium-mountain stage 8 June
8 Sisteron to Risoul 155.5 km (96.6 mi) Medium-mountain stage 9 June

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