Merhawi Kudus was one of the first members of the 'Eritrean wave' of riders to make their way to cycling's top level.
The 25-year-old recently joined Astana Pro Team and has already proven to be a valuable asset for his new team with an overall victory in the Tour du Rwanda - his first ever in a UCI stage race, in addition to winning two stages.
The Eritrean champion seems to be in great shape, also thanks to Astana's preparation in Spain throughout the winter. CyclingPub had an opportunity to speak to Kudus during the winter camp in Calpe, Spain.
Can you tell me why you decided to switch teams after five years at Dimension Data?
Yes, I spent five years there, having joined in 2014 when I became a professional. I had a really good time with them but after five years I need to keep developing. Dimension Data became more focused on one-day races and sprints, which is why I decided to change to Astana and improve with the GC guys.
What do you think you can learn at Astana?
At Astana there are a lot of climbers and GC riders, so I can definitely learn and improve a lot here in that regard.
Were you also looking at other teams or did you always know that Astana was the right place to go?
I was looking at different teams that were focused on GC's and climbers. But in the end, I decided to go with Astana.
Did the presence of Alexandr Vinokurov at Astana play a role as well, given that he was a climber and GC rider himself?
Yes. He has a lot of experience and knows a lot about cycling. That's also why the team is improving and has such a good atmosphere. They have a lot of experience in riding for GC's. That's why I'm happy to join this team.
Do you already know a bit more about your schedule for the next few months?
After Rwanda I will do Catalonia, Romandie, Turkey and Norway. I'm a reserve for the Giro.
You mention Rwanda. Most riders also get to race more in their home countries or at least their home continents. Do you miss riding in Africa?
Well, I never really had the opportunity to race much there as I joined the World Cycling Center in 2013, in Switzerland. I joined the professionals very fast, so I could not go back to African races, unfortunately.
But you do like to race there?
Yes, I do really like it.
Can you tell me how it is different to race in Africa?
It's totally different. Especially the level here in Europe is quite high and the amount of riders. There are also a lot of traffic islands, it goes up and down a lot. In Africa it's not like that. The peloton normally will be about a 100 guys. Looking at races like Rwanda and Gabon, the level is totally different.
What about your own country, Eritrea. Do you see further development there?