Sunday, July 25, 2021
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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.

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