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by Shane Stokes
Today’s sixth stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey may well see the general classification settled with the second – and final – summit finish of the race taking place at Selcuk.
Twenty-year-old Eritrean rider Merhawi Kudus is one of the big dangermen – well, big in the metaphorical sense of the word, as he’s very light – for race leader Rein Taaramae. The MTN Qhubeka rider is fourth overall, level on time with third-placed Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and fifth-placed Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural). He is just 38 seconds off the leader’s turquoise jersey and could move a lot closer today if things go well.
Kudus only turned 20 in January but despite his youth, he has already shown his talent in the sport. He won a stage and finished second overall in the 2013 Tour of Eritrea, then clocked up second in the Vuelta a Leon, 11th in the Tour de l’Avenir, 15th in the world under 23 championships and third in the African cycling championships.
This year his progress has continued with a string of good results; second on the Genting Highland stage of the Tour de Langkawi led to an eventual second overall, then he was third overall in the Mzansi Tour. This week he was fourth on the Elmali mountain stage in the Tour of Turkey, putting him in a high position overall.
He crashed on Wednesday’s fourth stage of the race and began Thursday’s leg with a bandage on his arm and a noticeable limp. “I have pain now but I’ll try to finish the race,” the quietly spoken rider told CyclingTips before the start.
He did more than that, attacking hard with seven kilometres to go to leave the bunch on a drag and bridge across to Torku’s Mirac Kal and Marco Canola (Bardiani CSF). While they were reeled in by the sprinters’ teams once the road went downhill, the attack showed his strong form and his intent to be aggressive in the remaining days.
Kudus speaks about the Tour of Turkey in the video above and also talks about what comes next. “I am working hard for my future,” he said. “I will do the Tour de Suisse so I try to fight with them at a high level in Europe.”
His programme this year should also see him do the Tour of Austria and the world championships, but while he is one of MTN Qhubeka’s best climbers, he doesn’t want to compete in a Grand Tour at this point. “My team is already part of the Vuelta a España but for me it is too early. I will speak with my team first but my idea is that it is too early to do the Vuelta a España [in 2014].”
He’s got ambition and talent, but also common sense; he knows that his youth means that time is on his side and the chance to do other three week races will come. Kudus wants to develop gradually, but it’s clear that he’s a major talent and could be decimating climbs for years to come.
Looking at him around his team-mates, he appears to be happy where he is at MTN Qhubeka. “We are the first African riders [first African team – ed.] in a Grand Tour. I am really proud, really happy. It is good chance for African riders to show their talent in Europe. It is a good opportunity.”