• Lampre-Merida's Tsgabu Grmay says cycling is not a hard thing for him to do (Bettini Photo) (BettiniPhoto)Source: BettiniPhoto
A hard path so far means cycling comes easy to 24-year-old Ethiopian rider Tsgabu Grmay.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
18 Jan 2016 - 10:18 AM  UPDATED 18 Jan 2016 - 10:23 AM

Lampre-Merida's Tsgabu Grmay does not look at the challenges and mental strain of professional cycling the way others do. The first Ethiopian rider in the World Tour could not rely on the established path bigger cycling nations have laid out for them, and instead had to prove himself every step of the way.

“I love cycling, now I’m riding a bike and getting money from that also. I’ve never said that this is a hard sport, because I love to ride the bike, it’s an easy thing to do,” he said. 

"I started cycling because I grew up with it, my brother was one of the good cyclists in the local races I would follow him. After that, I went to the South African training centre, then I went to the UCI centre in Switzerland, and I’ve ended up here.

"At that moment that was the way for me to become a good rider, lots of riders Eritrea, South Africa, even Chris Froome, they take from around the world and they are given everything, nice bike, nice training. Coming from Africa and racing in Europe was really different," he said. 

The biggest issue he experienced was the weather.

"I was 18, and to go from the sunshine all my life to snow and raining was a big difference. It was like a university on the bike for me, I had a lot of problems at the start, with the positioning and going downhill. I’ve done a lot of work on that, I learnt a lot, and I had also quite good results. It gave me a lot of confidence that I could be good, and reach that level. I think the UCI are doing it the right way to develop cycling,” he said. 

In Ethiopia cycling ranks well behind running and football in the public eye, but Grmay’s recent performances are drawing attention and headlines.

“Now I am known a bit, especially after the Giro D’Italia, I was the first Ethiopian to be in the Giro. It was a big moment, in Ethiopia the media is all about running and football. Cycling, it’s not a really big sport there, but now the government sees that the more they work with cycling the better we can develop. They start supporting me, and people know me more now,” he said.

“I love cycling, now I’m riding a bike and getting money from that also. I’ve never said that this is a hard sport, because I love to ride the bike, it’s an easy thing to do,” he said. 

Grmay believes his success shows Ethiopia has a lot of potential to produce top riders for World Tour teams in the future, and the sport can continue to grow in his homeland.

“Yeah of course. It’s different because running for us, it doesn’t need more cost, you just need shoes, if you know the history, some of our runners not even that. With cycling, it’s totally different, you need the bike, parts, everything. This is very expensive, and that’s the biggest problem. If we can get over this problem, we have nice weather, altitude, a lot of climbs and good athletes. I will not say, that we can become like running, because we have Olympic winners, they win everywhere around the world. In cycling, maybe we can in a 10-15 years be the second sport after running.”

Grmay’s young career hasn’t seen him take many wins yet, with his biggest victories including a Tour of Taiwan stage and the African Continental Championships Time Trial where he beat the likes of Louis Meintjes and Daniel Teklehaimanot.

“I think my favourite result was the African Continental Championships Time Trial because for my country, it was a first. Also I qualified for the Olympics with that, so now Ethiopia will send both running and cycling to the Olympics.”

When you ask Grmay about his ambitions for the season, he answers not like your average cyclist but answers as a Lampre-Merida rider first, and himself second.

“First thing is to develop with the team. The team have a plan for 2016, and I’m ready to be with that plan. The biggest race I’m looking to be in is the Tour de France, and I’ll have to do a good performance for every race, from the Tour Down Under to July. I’m ready for that, and if in the middle of that there is a good race that can suit me to a good result, I will do that for sure,” he said. 

For his career goals, Grmay doesn’t change his unassuming nature, and falls back on the process of hard work and application that has got him to this stage.

“For sure I want to be a good rider. For now I work hard and believe that I can do that. I grew up with a tough life, and cycling changed my life, so to work hard to do six to seven hours on the bike, it is easy for me.”

Grmay will be in action this week for Lampre-Merida at the Tour Down Under, where he was 11th overall last season, and will likely work for Diego Ulissi in his bid for the Ochre jersey.