August 1, 2011

Tour of Eritrea 2011: Peculiar Final Stage Race

by Essayas Fessahaye | Cycling is one of the most popular sports in Eritrea and the Cycling Tour of Eritrea 2011 was held from 20th to 24th July, 2011. In these competition national teams from Algeria, Egypt and Sudan in addition to the three national teams participated in the 5 stages competition.

Cycling tour in Eritrea is started back in the times of the Italian colonization, Giro de Eritrea, cycling tour was first held in 1946, with only 35 riders. Now, 65 years after that historic event, despite the lower number of the competitors the competition was tough.

In view of the quality of the riders 14 of the total number of 18 Eritrean riders who participated in the 2011 are experienced riders that had participated in various international competitions. Yonatan Mesfin (ERI-Team C), Tesfom Okbamariam (ERI-Team B), Yonas Fessahaye (ERI-Team B) and Hailemichael Akale (ERI-Team C) were the only riders without any international experience.

The tour unfolded by setting off to Keren from Asmara and returned to capital through the ascending Massawa route was the end of the first stage of the Eritrean Cycling Tour of 2011. In this competition Yonatan Mesfin from ERI-Team C wins the first stage of Asmara-Keren, 95 km, in a sprint finishing in front of experienced riders like Frekalsi Debesay , Jani Tewolde from Eri-TeamA and Bereket Yemane from Eri-Team C. Frekalsi was the silver medalist in Algiers All-Africa Games in 2007 and Jani became the best young rider in Tour of Libya 2010.

Yonatan won the red, for stage victory; the green, for leading in points; the white, as the best young rider; and the coveted yellow jersey in the overall classifications in this all for one competition.

Result: Stage 1
1. Yonatan Mesfun (ERI-Team C) 2h11’27’’
2. Janni Tewolde (ERI-Team A)
3. Frekalsi Debesay (ERI-Team A)
4. Bereket Yemane (ERI-Team C)
5. Million Amanuel (ERI-Team B)
6. Berhane Melake (ERI-Team B)
7. Tesfay Abrham (Eri-Team A)
8. Semere Menges (Eri-Team B)

The second stage of the competition was Keren-Barentu-Keren. The winner of the second stage was 2010 African Championship silver medalist, Meron Russom, (Eri-Team A) followed by the 2009 Tour of Eritrea overall winner,Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C). But the greatest surprise came from Awet Gebremedhin who followed Meron and Bereket for the podium finish.

Awet Gebremedhin is a rider with little experience in the top level local competitions. Yet before he participated in his first ever Tour of Eritrea 2011 race, he took part in Italy’s Toscana-Terra di ciclismo 2011 just two months before, in April.

Result: Stage 2
1. Merom Russom (ERI-Team A) 4h14’28’’
2. Bereket Yemane (ERI-Team C)
3. Awet Gebremedhin (ERI-Team C)
4. Frekalsi Debesay (ERI-Team A)
5. Tesfay Abrha (ERI-Team A)
6. Semere Mengis (ERI-Team B)
7. Azzedin Lagab (Alg)
8. Yonatan Mesfun (ERI-Team C)

Red Jersey – Meron Russom (Eri-Team A)
Green Jersey – Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C)
White Jersey – Yonatan Mesfun (Eri-Team C)
Yellow Jersey – Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C)
Red and White Polka Dot – Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C)

Stage 3 was held to cross the Asmara-Keren-Mendefera route of 147 km. Yonas and Tesfom won the stage in the middle of the particular town they grew up, making the event glorious both for themselves and for their fans that were waiting enthusiastically out there.

Result: Stage 3
1. Yonas Fessahaye (Eri-Team B) 4h16’44’’
2. Tesfom Okbamariam (Eri-Team B)
3. Tesfay Abrha (Eri-Team A)
4. Amanuel Kibreab (Eri-Team C)
5. Semere Mengis (Eri-Team B)
6. Azzedin Lagab (Algeria)
7. Aklilu Haile (Eri-Team B)
8. Janni Tewolde (Eri-Team A)

Red Jersey- Yonas Fessahaye (Eri-Team B)
Green Jersey – Tesfay Abrha (Eri-Team A)
White Jersey – Jani Tewolde (Eri-Team A)
Red and White Polka Dot – Jani Tewolde (Eri-Team A)
Yellow Jersey – Jani Tewolde (Eri-Team A)

Stage 4 of the 115 km distance, an absolute uphill tasks from below see level up to more than 2,400 meters above see level of Massawa-Asmara route has been the toughest route in the 65 years of the competition. This particular competition was proof for the power of the Eritrean riders’ in the mountains.

Aklilu Haile, an experienced rider of the tour who was taking part in the competition for his 9th time in 10 years, broke away earlier and won all the climbing contests of the stage only to lag behind about 10 km to the finish line for mechanical problems. Thus, Tesfom Okbamariam wins the toughest stage on the top of the uphill mountains to the capital, Asmara. Yonatan Mesfin and Awet Gebremedhin followed the winner on the podium.

It is to be recalled that the UCI commissioner for the 2009 first ever international Tour of Eritrea, Mr. Erwin Kistemaker, compared this particular stage with one of Tour de France’s toughest stages.

Result: Stage 4
1. Tesfom Okbamariam (Eri-Team B) 4h28’17’’
2. Yonatan Mesfun (Eri-Team C) 4h30’19’’
3. Awet Gebremedin (Eri-Team C) 4h30’19’’
4. Frekalsi Debesay (Eri-Team A) 4h30’19’’
5. Meron Russom (Eri-Team A) 4h30’19’’
6. Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C) 4h30’20’’
7. Yonas Fessahaye (Eri-Team B) 4h30’42’’
8. Semere Mengis (Eri-Team B) 4h30’43’’

Red Jersey – Tesfom Okbamariam (Eri-Team B)
Green Jersey – Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C)
White Jersey – Tesfom Okbamariam (Eri-Team B)
Red and White Polka Dot – Aklilu Haile (Eri-Team B)
Yellow Jersey – Bereket Yemane (Eri-Team C)

The final stage 5 consisted of 6.2 km long Asmara circuit with a total distance of 152 km. Bereket Yemane started the final race wearing yellow jersey. He was 20 seconds ahead of his closest opponent Frekalsi Debesay, 28 seconds ahead of Semere Mengis, 1minute and 2 seconds away from Tesfom Okbamariam and 2minute and 27 seconds ahead of Meron Russom. These riders were consecutively on the list of top five riders in the general classifications for the yellow jersey. Although many of the fans were expecting Bereket to retain the yellow jersey, the fact was quite the contrary.

The final stage race despite the anticipation everyone handed Meron Russom the yellow jersey as 8 riders controlled the race, overlapping the chasing groups. Tesfay Abrha, Mekseb Debesay, Amanuel Kibreab, Meron Russom and Berhane Melake from Eritrea; Madani Abdelmalek and Baz Nabil from Algeria were the only remnants of the competition. The stage was won by Mekseb Debesay as Meron Russom was handed the yellow jersey.

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