Tuesday, October 26, 2021
HomeInterviewsTsgabu Grmay - MTN-Qhubeka's Star of the Future

Tsgabu Grmay – MTN-Qhubeka’s Star of the Future


If you’re a regular here on VeloVeritas, you’ll know that we’re not huge fans of ‘Mondialisation.’

Not when the date of the Tour of Lombardy is changed to accommodate a new race in China – bearing in mind the strict list of criteria the UCi wheeled out for races to be added to the World Tour.

There was the race’s history, the competency of the organisation, safety record…

But all that actually matters – is money.

And then, when said Chinese race is cancelled and not an eyebrow is raised, it’s hard for us to enthuse.

Tsgabu Grmay
Tsgabu’s team ‘hero card’.

However, there is a more positive aspect to ‘Mondialisation’ – like the rise of the Malaysian track sprinters at world level and the emergence of road talent from Africa.

And whilst Flanders and Brittany must remain the Heartland and the big Euro races must be supported and remain the bedrock of the sport, Professional Cycling would be the poorer without competitors from the Americas and Australasia.

So why not the African Continent?

The Spring Classics are like a black hole which sucks in all of the worlds cycling fans and media attention.

But there are other races taking place – like the UCi 2.1 Tour of Korea; 2.1 is the same status as the Tour of Britain and carries the same number of UCi points.

Stage Five of the race was a historic one – the first ever win for an Ethiopian rider at this level; youngster, Tsgabu Grmay of South Africa’s first Pro Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung.

And lest you think it was a ‘soft’ field, the likes of La Pomme Marseille, United Healthcare and DRAPAC were on the start sheet.

Grmay’s win was all the more spectacular, given that it was a mountain top finish.

The Ethiopian is only 21 years-old but has already racked up some nice palmares.

In 2010 he scored a number of top ten placings in UCi Africa Tour races and by 2011 he was based at the UCi Centre in Aigle, Switzerland taking a podium on Stage Three of the Toscana Nations Cup race and ended up fifth overall against the best of European U23 opposition.

There were more Africa Tour points in 2012, including a win in the African Nations U23 TT championship.

But this year has seen the man from Mekele, 2,000 metres up in the Tigrayan Highlands of Ethiopia land a top ten GC placing in the Tour of Langkawi as well as second on GC in Taiwan to go with his stage win.

We caught up with him upon his return to Europe to ride the Tour of Trentino.

Tsgabu Grmay
Tsgabu on the podium at the Tour of Taiwan, celebrating his stage win.

Tell us about your stage win please, Tsgabu.

“Yeah, it’s a nice result, I’m very happy with it.

“The race route suited me with the last 50 kilometres being up and down – and then the mountain top finish where I was able to get away on my own.”

You were only 24 seconds of the GC win – any regrets?

“No, Bernie Sulzberger and his DRAPAC team were really strong so I was happy with being on the podium.”

How did you get into cycling?

“I started about five years ago, my father and brother cycled and I used to go out with my brother.

“I started to race locally and when I showed potential my brother organised that I go to the UCi Cycling Centre in Potchefstroom near Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa.

“The ex-professional rider Jean Pierre Van Zyl runs it and when I started to get results on the Africa Tour he recommended me for the Centre at Aigle in Switzerland.”

[Van Zyl is a former Worlds Keirin medallist and lap record holder at Gent’s Kuipke Velodrome, ed.]

How was Aigle?


“It was a big step up for me but I survived and after two or three months I started to go well.

“I was there for seven months and gained a lot of experience.”

Tsgabu Grmay
Like his teammates, Tsgabu enjoys modern training methods.

Do you have a coach?

“All the guys on MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung are trained by Dr. Carol Austin – she uses all the modern methods, like SRM power meters and makes sure our nutrition is good.”

You can time trial and climb – not many can do that.

“I want to be like Alberto Contador – so I have to be able to do both!

“I have an advantage because where I live is up at 2,000 metres so whilst I’m not a great sprinter, I’m a good climber – I think the time trialling is just something I’m naturally good at.”

Tsgabu Grmay
He can climb and time trial, we’ll be seeing more of Tsgabu, for sure.

How did you get the ride with MTN?

“The introductions came about when I was still at Aigle; Jean Pierre Van Zyl is my manager now and he made the connection to MTN for me.”

Trentino is a tough one.

“After Langkawi and Taiwan I think I’m ready for it – I’m good climber but it will be interesting to see how I go against the top opposition in Trentino.”

You’ve raced in Italy before…

“Yes, I rode the Toscana race when I was at Aigle, I was third on a stage and fifth on GC and I think people began to realise that there that I had some potential.”

Tsgabu Grmay
Tsgabu on the way to his stage win in the Tour of Taiwan. Photo©Aaron Lee.

What’s it like training in Mekele?

“It’s not flat!

“There are no easy roads; you’re climbing wherever you go – every day.”

I heard that you wanted to a soccer goal keeper?

“Yes, but I’m glad my brother talked me out of that one – I’m very happy with how my cycling career is going.”

Are the Ethiopian Media beginning to take an interest in your career?

“Soccer and running are the big sports at home; but with my doing well in the African Championships and winning the stage in Taiwan I’m generating interest, yes.”

What’s your biggest goal in the sport?

“I want to start the Tour de France at some stage in my career; I want Africa to be proud of me and to give something back to my country.”

The first win by an Ethiopian pro cyclist, a stage in the Three Days of West Flanders, the South African Road Race title and the Primavera – it’s not been a bad Pro Continental debut at all for the men from the Rainbow Nation.

Thanks to MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung for the use of their images.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Ross Lamb – With Swift Carbon Pro Racing for 2020

It was this time last year when we last spoke to Ross Lamb; he told us he was going to be enjoying a change of scenery in 2019, to the Toulouse suburbs to race with GSC Blagnac–Velo Sport 31. Nice, we thought – but as oor Rabbie said; 'the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley'. In modern parlance; ‘s##t happens!’

Mike Cuming – a Very Young Pro

We all know everything about Armstrong, Contador and the other top names in Pro cycling, but they all had to start somewhere. A young English rider called Mike Cuming has shot from club cyclist to promising Pro in two seasons so nothing is impossible.

Douglas Dewey – “Because Belgium is the Best!”

Vik's latest nod to us is regarding an Englishman, Douglas Dewey. Douglas won the British U23 time trial championships last season, but the other week he pulled off a major win in Belgium-Gent Staden, the first major amateur classic of the year.

Henrietta Colborne – Looking forward to racing in the Spanish hills

It’s not just the boys which the Rayner Fund supports, the young ladies get their opportunities. Here’s what 19 year-old Miss Henrietta Colborne from the north of England had to tell us...

Joe Nally – the British Senior Points Race Champion – at just 17 years-of-age

Following in the footsteps of Scottish track stars Mark Stewart and Katie Archibald, we believe Scotland’s Joe Nally to be the youngest ever winner of the British Senior Points Race Championship at just 17 years-of-age. The race was held at the Manchester Velodrome but Nally is another product of Glasgow’s beautiful indoor track; taking bronze in the team pursuit to go with his points gold. ‘Best have a word with the man,’ we thought ourselves here at VeloVeritas.

Jordan Kerby – Australian U23 Road Champion

The work ethic it takes to be reach and remain on the Australian National Squad is well known to the ‘Euros.’ The latest young man to take note of is Queenslander, Jordan Kerby; in his short career he’s achieved much – including two world titles. VeloVeritas spoke to the 20 year-old as his career began with Danish Continental squad Christina Watches-Onfone.

At Random

Eastern Promise Road Race

On a dismal Wednesday night for the Eastern Promise Road Race, made even more unpleasant by Pro Tour level midges, it was those Pedal Power boys carrying on where they left off in the Sam Robinson, with Gordon Murdoch and Gary Hand scooping the dosh in the Eastern Promise road race across the moors around Gladhouse Reservoir. I haven't trained as an SC commissaire, but presumably there's a rule which says; "Pre race briefings must always be conducted outside in the torrential rain, rather than in the comfort and dry of the strip."

David Solari – Australian AND Italian Champion!

National Champion of two different nations at the same time? Is that possible? If your name is David Solari then the answer is ‘yes’ – and the man made six Worlds podiums in four different disciplines to boot.

Giro d’Italia 2013 – Stage 4: Policastro – Serra San Bruno, 246km. Bravo Battaglin

Just when I was about to write that there are few fairy tales in Grand Tours, as ‘re-born’ late escapee and former Baby Giro and Giro winner, Danilo Di Luca succumbed to a group of men desperate to put an end to their pain in the closing metres of the tough 246 kilometres from Policastro to Serra San Bruno, Stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia, up popped 23 year-old Enrico Battaglin.

Martyn Roach – One of British Cycling’s True Legends

Martyn Roach was one of the strongest riders of his generation but despite offers to move to foreign shores he remained a ‘true blue’ GB amateur, working full time all through a beautiful career which lasted from the 60’s to the 80’s.

Helen Wyman’s Cyclocross World Cup 2010, Rounds 1 and 2

It seems like a lifetime ago that we (that's the 'royal we' i.e me, Helen Wyman and hubby Stef) were packing the car and heading off for the first world cup of the season in Aigle, Switzerland.

The Tour of Flanders 2008 – Day 1

The Tour of Flanders 2008. When I was young (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) I read and re-read Tom Simpson's autobiography, 'Cycling is my Life.' The races that he won seemed so tough and so glamorous; I idolised him - still do. But it wasn't until I actually saw The Worlds, Milan - San Remo and the Tour of Lombardy in the flesh, that I realised how good the man actually was. I'm reminded again today, when I look at the parcours of 'The Ronde' what a bike rider he really was.