Ethiopian riders race in Rwanda with holy protection

The tag on Weldemikael Weyo's yellow and green bike is not common at all. A religious icon is placed at the base of the stem, a sticker with the Madonna appearing at the top of the frame, and Jesus viewable on the right side of the tube. "I am a Christian", Ethiopian rider simply told Cyclingnews on Wednesday in Gitarama after stage 4 in the Tour of Rwanda where he came in fourth.

More exactly, Weyo is a member of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, like 40 to 45 million people in his country, or roughtly half the population. He also wears an iron Greek cross around his neck while his teammate Alem Abebe has the same insignia - but made in wood.

"Our riders think the Blessed Virgin protects them," their mechanic said, providing them water and strawberry wafers.

Weyo believes he crashes less often and feels an extra boost of energy on his bike. On the Tour of Rwanda's queen stage, he certainly was not the most stylish rider of the breakaway, moulded in a painful and not aerodynamic position, but that didn't affect his passionate attacks and his boiling faith.

Aged 21, he comes from Tigrai province, in the North of a country which is rising in term of cycling, in the shadow of Eritrea, his country's twin brother and its historical enemy. Tsabu Grmay, who was best young rider at the Italian Under-23 Nations Cup event and improved this year at the UCI World Cycling Center, is currently the best athlete in the country but he is not racing in Rwanda.

"We can do better than today," the team's mechanic said after Weyo's breakaway. It's the second day the team has showed itself, yesterday on another hilly course to Gisenyi the team put its six climbers in the small leading group at the top of first ascent. They were pulled back a few kilometers later but they have been active throughout the race.

The team's highest ranked rider in the general classification, Tedros Redae, is 12th at 4:35 to American Joey Rosskopf (Team Type 1-Sanofi).

It is obvious Weyo and his compatriots have pure climber's genes, a strong will and powerful engines.

"They just don't know themselves," observes Jock Boyer, the national coach of Team Rwanda. With more experience they could reach the level of their Eritrean neighbours, currently the most prolific and impressive African nation in cycling.

Weyo is however hopeful and humble facing all different sorts of challenges. He says: "My dream is to race the Tour de France, I watch it every year on television". To achieve this dream, he knows he has to keep riding strong and pray to God.

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1