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Jens Voigt's final pro bike – complete with 'shut up legs' mantra
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Merhawi Kudus is MTN-Qhubeka's hot new climber from Eritrea
Eritrean looking for opportunities in the mountains
The Eritrean climber – one of three in the race, alongside team-mate Daniel Teklehaimanot and Europcar’s Natnael Berhane – said he was excited to be at the start of his first grand tour, and that he was very happy with his form and confidence after finishing fifth in the mountainous Route du Sud.
“Right now I’m really strong and I feel good,” he said. “It’s really super to be here and it’s really exciting to ride on this team. To find opportunities to ride a grand tour is not so easy.”
While this year’s Vuelta route, with its eight summit finishes, offers ample opportunity for pure climbers such as Kudus, he said he would have to give week one his full attention.
He said: “There are a lot of uphill stage finishes so there are a lot of opportunities for me especially in the second week with the hardest climbs, but we’ll have to see how I am feeling – I’ve never done more than ten days racing, so we will see.”
While he the youngster added he was confident, he said the level of competition was what made him most nervous: “It’s my first WorldTour stage race so the top riders are here for one of the hardest Vueltas, so to ride with them, to fight with them is going to be really hard.”
Kudus, a graduate of the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Academy, broke onto the professional scene with a second-place finish on the queen stage at the Tour of Langkawi in March – a result that also netted him second on the GC too.
After finishing fourth on the first mountain stage of the Tour of Turkey, Kudus was subsequently forced to abandon when he broke his collarbone during the final stage in early May. However, his recovery was rapid and six weeks later at the Route du Sud, he finished fifth and was the best young rider.
MTN-Qhubeka, is the first African-registered team to ride a Grand Tour and is fielding six grand tour debutants, including the South African national champion, Louis Meintjes, aged 22. The team is led by Spanish rider Sergio Pardilla, and includes the 2013 Milan-San Remo winner, Gerald Ciolek.
Team principal Doug Ryder said the team’s overall aim was to first to get as many riders as possible to the finish in Santiago de Compostela and animate the race by riding aggressively and infiltrating breaks.
The team starts its Vuelta campaign this evening with the 12.6km team time trial on Saturday.