The globalisation of cycling took a leap forward today with the victory of Eritrea's Natnael Berhane (Team Europcar) in the third stage of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. It was the first victory of a sub-Saharan African in a Hors Categorie (HC) event on the UCI calendar and one of the greatest results from a former World Cycling Centre (WCC) trainee.
It was a double success for the 22-year-old Berhane who, in winning the third stage, also took possession of the leader's jersey. Showing good climbing form in the last five kilometres, he reached the top of the Elmali, considered Turkey's Alpe d'Huez, with a six-second lead over his breakaway companions Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana) and Mustafa Sayar (Torku Sekersport).
Founded in 2002, the World Cycling Centre has already trained more than 620 young athletes, mainly for road, track and BMX, from more than 120 countries. The trainees come mostly from countries that do not have the necessary facilities to help their athletes reach a level that could enable them to turn professional or realise their Olympic dreams.
"It is an historic day for Eritrea, for Africa and for cycling," said WCC Director Frédéric Magné. "It demonstrates the exceptional qualities of this rider, who preferred to remain amateur for an extra season in order to continue his progression. It is also proof of the quality of the coaching and training work undertaken at the WCC."
Berhane was a trainee at the WCC in Aigle, Switzerland, in 2011 and 2012. He followed in the footsteps of his compatriot Daniel Teklehaymanot, who trained at the WCC from 2009 to 2011 before turning professional in 2012, with Orica-GreenEdge.
Already showing his talent in 2011 by beating UCI WorldTour riders to take a stage victory in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo-Tour du Gabon, Berhane was African Road Race and Team Time Trial Champion in 2011 and 2012 and also clocked up solid results last year in the Under-23 UCI Nations' Cup: 3rd in a stage of Toscana-Terra di Ciclismo, 7th and 8th in the Ville de Saguenay (Canada).
WCC coach Jean-Jacques Henry is full of praise for his former trainee: "Natnael Berhane is a great guy, serious, diligent, intelligent in race situations and with a puncher's profile for events such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Since last May at the WCC he learned to be patient and concentrate his attacking efforts at the end, as he did in a winning way today at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey."
Berhane is now leader of the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey with a 10-second lead over Seeldraeyers and a 12-second advantage on Sayar. The eight-stage event concludes on Sunday in Istanbul.