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Henok Mulubrhan - The rider who was not supposed to come to BIKE AID

Sunday, Jan 16, 2022 in Pro Cycling

He already had the World Tour contract in his pocket. Then the end came for the only African Tour de France team, just as the UCI awarded the Road World Championships to Africa for the first time.

A team making history

Cycling Africa once had a dream, to bring its own team to the Tour de France. Team Qhubeka set out to fulfill this dream and inspired an entire continent, gave hope, gave people courage.

In 2015, they were the first African team in the Tour de France. And with Daniel Teklehaimanot from Eritrea, a black African wears the polkadot jersey and thus a classification jersey at the Tour de France for the first time. The whole continent is freaking out. In Eritrea, the cinemas, the only place to watch the Tour, are bursting at the seams.

The team is making history, has an entire continent behind it, and is offering athletes from various African countries a real opportunity for the first time.

From 2017 to 2020, however, not a single black athlete will be in the team's Tour de France lineup. In 2021, only one. What happened? As a congenial outsider, with a unique history, they wanted to achieve great success with international sponsors and bought prominent names. As a result, however, the team became just one of many.

Facing challenges and giving opportunities

We know the difficulties of bringing African athletes into European cycling from our own experience. Bureaucratic hurdles on the one hand, but also the big cultural differences and often wrong expectations on both sides. African cyclists have great potential. The enthusiasm in certain countries is unique and it is not least the colonial history and also currently the inequality that dictates giving these people opportunities. The effort is enormous, and we know that Team Qhubeka also had to struggle with all these difficulties.

In 2021, the UCI announced the award of the 2025 Road World Championships to Rwanda. The first world championship in Africa. A country where every year 25% of the inhabitants make a pilgrimage to the route of the Tour du Rwanda and celebrate the biggest festival of cycling in Africa. The next big step for cycling in Africa, the images of cycling enthusiasm will go around the world. At the end of 2021 it is also certain that Team Qhubeka is a thing of the past. No more sponsors could be found, what a tragedy.

Cycling nation Eritrea

In the meantime, at least some African riders are finding their way into World Tour teams, even without Team Qhubeka. For example, Tsgabu Grmay from Ethiopia, Merhawi Kudus, Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, as well as the U23 vice World Champion Biniam Ghirmay Hailu, who are all from Eritrea. This is an important step, yet they are only a few.

Eritrea, one of the poorest and smallest countries in Africa. Cycling is a national sport. However, there are hardly any great supporting structures, teams and material. Nevertheless, this small country has been the most successful cycling nation in Africa for several years and brings forth the greatest talents. In many cases, however, talent is all that remains, and the breakthrough does not come. It is a long way, and most teams are deterred by the effort to develop such an athlete.

One of these talents is Henok Mulubrhan. He was on the verge of realizing his dream. He had a World Tour contract with Team Qhubeka for 2022 in his pocket. Henok has already shown what he is made of in tough races in Europe. Alongside his compatriot Biniam Ghirmay Hailu, he is currently considered one of the continent's biggest talents.

Hard work pays off

BIKE AID is currently the only UCI team outside of Africa that is conceptually involved with cycling on this continent and is not afraid of the effort. We would be very happy if there were more.

Every year since 2014, the team has been joined by several athletes from different African countries. It is not an easy path for us. Often, we ourselves think we can't do it anymore and fail because of the difficulties. However, out of conviction we do it anyway and at each of our races in Africa we experience once again why it is worth fighting for.

"We have been in contact with Henok for a long time and were happy for him that he could deservedly fulfill his dream of the World Tour. When the rumors about the closure of his team came up, we intensified the contact again and offered him a spot in our team," says Timo Schäfer.

At the end of December, just before Christmas, the final dissolution of Team Qhubeka was announced and for Henok Mulubrhan it was clear: "Outside the World Tour there was only one team I wanted to join and that was BIKE AID. They were very committed to me and have been doing great work with African riders for years. I'm sure I'll have a great time with them," Mulubrhan said.

Picture by Gautier Demouveaux and Team Qhubeka