The Tour de l’Espoir, held in Cameroon in early February, opened the UCI Under 23 Nations' Cup season and confirmed the trend of recent years, namely the domination of Eritrean riders in events on the African continent.
In the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon in January, a race open to professionals, one of the young Eritrean prospects Biniam Girmay Hailu, aged just 18, won a stage against the supremely experienced German sprinter André Greipel. On the roads of Cameroon in the Tour de l’Espoir, his Eritrean compatriots took up the baton.
African cycling is buoyant and can only continue to grow.
With three stage victories out of five and a general classification win by Yakob Debesay, the Eritreans once again demonstrated their dominance. Eritrea has become an impressive breeding ground for young African cyclists. Since the early 2010s, athletes such as Daniel Teklehaimanot, Natnael Berhane and Merhawi Kudus have progressed to become key members of UCI WorldTeams, and the country has shown the way to other African nations. The objective of the UCI U23 Nations' Cup, which includes the Tour de l’Espoir, is to allow the majority of African countries to compete and progress in races organised to an international standard under the auspices of the UCI.
Following Eritrea, Rwanda as well as Ethiopia and Kenya have already reached new levels in recent years as they seek to establish themselves among the top ranks of the continental hierarchy alongside "traditional" nations such as South Africa and the Maghreb countries. Cycling is growing rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa, and the organisation of an Under-23 event is a huge boost to supporting the development of young African cyclists. It also encourages the emergence of new nations that have seen the success of Eritrean and Rwandan riders and now have their own dreams to pursue.
The enthusiasm for cycling in Africa is clear for all to see. The images of the joyous, celebratory crowds on the roadsides during the five stages of the Tour de l’Espoir in Cameroon show that African cycling is buoyant and can only continue to grow. With the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon and the Tour of Rwanda both classified as category 2.1 on the UCI Calendar, the Tour de l’Espoir, after just two editions, has already become the focus of attention for young African cyclists.
In August, the best young riders in world cycling will compete in the 11-day Tour de l'Avenir in France, the final event of the UCI Nations' Cup U23. As the best team of the Tour de l'Espoir, Eritrea has been invited to participate in the Tour de l'Avenir.
The UCI U23 Nations' Cup continues in Belgium in March and April with the Gent-Wevelgem/Kattekoers-Ieper followed by the fearsome Ronde van Vlaanderen Beloften.