2011 Photo Contest, Sports, Stories, 3rd prize

Giro d’Eritrea


Chris Keulen

26 November, 2009

The Tour of Eritrea has its origins in a cycle race first held in 1946, though the form of the present-day event dates from 2001.

About the photographer

Chris Keulen

He studied Dutch language and literature in Nijmegen and photography at the Royal Art Academy in The Hague. His personal documentary work deals with everyday life in the Netherla...

Background story

Keren, Eritrea

Cyclists Meron Russom (left) and Amanuel Kibraab (right) pass an abandoned tank, a remnant of the 30-year-long war for independence from Ethiopia, on the road between Keren and Barentu. The Tour of Eritrea has its origins in a cycle race first held in 1946, though the form of the present-day event dates from 2001. It takes place in ten stages, over 710 kilometers, with some 100 professional and many more amateur participants. Cycling is enormously popular in Eritrea and the contest attracts thousands of spectators.

Photo credit:
Panos Pictures for Geo

Chris Keulen speaks about the project:
"When photographing I mainly concentrate on daily life events. A good balance between the sad and the cheerful elements of life are important for me. I’m a slow photographer and always try to build up a relationship with the people I’m photographing. After producing a book about Rwanda and Congo, I started to document African life cycle for five years. This resulted in Hot splinters of glass; le tour d’Afrique, a book that was published in 2008. It contained my World Press Photo winning pictures of Burkina Faso of 2000. In 2009 Geo Germany asked me to go back to Eritrea to follow the giro. The story was published in April 2010 and was again awarded with a World Press Photo award in sports.

Eritrea's passion for cycling is one of many lasting influences of Italian colonial rule. The country's first multi-day cycle race was staged in 1946, although locals were not allowed to enter. The giro was resurrected 55 years later, a symbol of the newfound confidence of a nation, which had finally achieved its independence in 1991.

Africa's oldest cycle race is a far cry from the televised sporting extravaganzas that we're used to seeing on TV. But a live telecast almost seems unnecessary. The roads are packed with spectators. The event is a huge celebration in a country whose repressive regime gives its people little to cheer about. I photographed the giro twice - in 2004 and 2009."

Technical information

Leica M6

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