Eyeru Tesfoam Gebru: the UCI World Cycling Centre’s Olympic torch bearer

We talk to the former UCI World Cycling Centre trainee following the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announcement that she will be one of the Paris 2024 torch bearers.

Yesterday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed 80% of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic torchbearers. Among them is Ethiopian Eyeru Tesfoam Gebru, who was nominated by the French Department of Calvados. The young athlete’s cycling journey continues.

It is a journey that has been full of ups and downs, and twists and turns, a journey that has been dangerous at times, lonely at others, and very emotional. But even when she was unable to cycle due to war in her country, then when in hiding in Europe, she never lost sight of her passion. At the end of last year, she returned to the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, to train, a winter interlude at the place she calls her second home.

“It’s my happy place,” she says simply.

Now 27 years old, Eyeru first arrived at the UCI WCC in the summer of 2017 following her second places in both the time trial and road race at her National Championships the previous year. After training in Aigle through the summer, she returned full-time in 2018 to join the UCI WCC’s women’s programme. In 2019 and 2020 she was part of the centre’s UCI Women’s Continental Team, the WCC Team.

Eyeru returned to Ethiopia in October 2020 for the off-season, and just a few weeks later, the nightmare began: civil war broke out between her region – Tigray – and the rest of the country. Eyeru lost friends and relatives. She was in a different city from her mother and had no means of communicating with her. She went through eight months of fear and despair before being able to escape thanks to her selection for the 2021 UCI Road World Championships in Flanders, Belgium.

It was to be her fourth participation in the UCI Road Worlds… but she didn’t show. Instead, she disappeared. Nobody knew where she was. She was back in relative safety, but things were still difficult for the young Ethiopian.

“I thought it would be easier when I came back to Europe. But everything was really hard. It was hard to get protection. It was really hard, really tough times. In this moment I was alone. I didn’t speak with anyone because I was scared. And I couldn’t talk with my family.”

Gradually, things started looking up. Her application for asylum was accepted and she received refugee status in July 2022. Living in France, she was given assistance finding accommodation and started learning French.

Eyeru Gebru could finally start thinking about cycling again, returning to the sport that had kept her going through difficult times. At first, she cycled simply to clear her mind.

“It (cycling) was like my therapy. I would train just to forget everything. When you just sit and see the news from back home… it was horrible.

“Cycling saved my life.”

With support from the French Olympic Committee and her contacts at the UCI World Cycling Centre, the young cyclist received an IOC Refugee Scholarship to help her train towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Last year she joined the French UCI Women’s Continental Team, Team Grand Est-Komugi-La Fabrique, reuniting with one of her former teammates from the WCC Team, Fernanda Anabel Yapura Plaza (ARG).

She had a full season of international racing, which included the UCI Women’s WorldTour event, the Tour de Suisse. It was a welcome, and challenging, return to competition after two years without pinning a race number to her jersey.

She has definitely noticed an increase in the level of women’s cycling during her absence.

“The girls who used to get dropped with me and suffer with me have got so fast. They used to ride like me and now they can finish top-10 in a UCI Women’s WorldTour race. I need to work hard. It takes time, but I need to trust the process.”

And she is determined. Qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games used to be her goal, but participation is no longer enough: “I want to do really well.”

Before embarking on a second season with her team, she enjoyed the off-season at the UCI World Cycling Centre.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said of the centre and its surroundings. “It’s like my home. I feel I’m with my people when I come here.”

Her happy place.