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Tour of Tigray - breathless at altitude, intoxicated by the landscape

Sunday, Feb 16, 2020 in Pro Cycling

BIKE AID was at the start oft he first ever stage race in the Tigray region of Ethiopia last week. But besides performance and results this should have been a trip with a deeper purpose.

To go to a non-UCI ranked race in Africa as a German Continental team? We are sure many people in the „cycling world“ will raise this question when they see that BIKE AID is starting at Tour of Tigray. „What are they doing there?“ the one might say, „this has no sporting value“ the others might.But BIKE AID stands for sustainable development of cycling in Africa and BIKE AID is also the only team worldwide that supports African cyclists in a asustainable way to change their lives through cycling – and so it was even an honour for BIKE AID tob e invited to come as flagship-team to this first ever edition of Tour of Tigray.

The Highlands of Abessynia – a wonder of nature but a challenge for human bodyT

igray, a region that is hardly known in our spheres. It is located directly on the border with Eritrea and is deeply interwoven with its history. So people speak the same language, Tigrinya, which no one understands outside of Eritrea and the Tigray-region. The common origin lies in the Aksumite Empire, the first Christian state of Black Africa, long before the colonial period. But the similarities are also related to the landscape. The region belongs to the highlands of Abyssinia, on which Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is also located. And so we are at an average altitude of 2,500 to 3,500m, which makes the cyclists from Eritrea and Tigray all very good climbers at high altitude. Although the enthusiasm for cycling in Eritrea can‘t be beaten, you can still feel a lot oft he same enthusiasm also in the Tigray region. It is not without reason that the only Ethiopian World Tour rider Tsgabu Grmay comes from Mek’ele, the capital of the region.

Opening win for Suleiman Kangangi

After already a strong performance during Tour of Saudi Arabia,  Kenyan Suleiman Kangagi showed his shape and supported by a strong team of climbers such as Charles Kagimu from Uganda and Adne van Engelen he took the stage win as well as the yellow jersey. But the yellow jersey on the shoulders meant many grueling kilometers at the head of the pack for the following days for a team that only had 5 riders against others with even up to eight. A task especially for Daniel Bichlmann and Adne von Engelen, so that Salim Kipkemboi and Charles Kagimu could still save energy for the climbs. Several thousand meters in altitude through the rugged rocky landscape with mountain ratings up to 3,100m were the daily challenge. As far as the exhaustion allowed, our European riders were impressed by the landscape every day. And latest at the finish line, the suffering vanished bathing in the thrilling crowds.

All over – the overall win gone with a puncture

Everything went according to plan up to the penultimate stage. When Suleiman Kangangi punctured at the beginning of an HC – ranked climb in the yellow jersey of the leader, it caused the big attack of the race by the other teams. This may not necessarily seem tob e fairplay but African cycling has its own rules that are not the same as those that we all know from big international races or even from local races in Germany. In the end, Suleiman lost the leader‘s jersey, fell far behind in time and the disappointment was very obvious.The whole team was disappointed as well to see that all hard work done through the whole week was gone by one moment and a different understanding of fairplay.The better, that Daniel Bichlmann could take another stage win on last day when he rode away in solitude and arrived with 45 seconds on the bunch.

Thanks Ethiopia -Thank you Tigray region

All in all we are happy to have been to Tour of Tigray, being able to spot a lot of new talents but also we hope we can make an impact tot he riders, inspire them and also motivate them. Thanks Ethiopia, thanks Tigray region and see you next time!