On Thursday,Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African rider to win the King of the Mountains jersey in the Tour De France. He and his team-mate, Merhawi Kudus who, at 21, is the youngest tour rider this year, is the first black African to compete in the biggest bike race in the world.
Talking about his team MTN-Qhubeka Daniel said, “Although we’ve got foreign people on the team [American Tyler Farrar and Norwegian rider Edvald Boasson Hagen, among others], this is an African team. We want African riders. We want to make sure this team is where all the African talented riders come to perform. Not to be a development team – we want to keep the cream of the crop.”
Daniel was born in a market town near the capital city of Asmara, Teklehaimanot. In an interview he said, “I first started cycling at home, a long time ago. There are many cyclists in Eritrea, the people love it, it’s really popular. When I was 10 or 11 I started riding my bike. When I grew up a bit, around 16, I always watched the tour on Eritrean TV, and when I became a good rider, I started dreaming that one day I could make it.”
Eritrea sits at 2,325 metres above sea level, at the tip of an escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, Daniel believes that, The geography and hard work are a main part of why they’re so good.
His team-mate is Merhawi Kudus, who at 21 year old, is the youngest tour rider this year, he is the first black African to compete in the Tour de France.
“When I was young, around 2005 and 2006, and I watched [the tour on] TV, me and my friends talked a lot about the bikes, the wheels – but we didn’t really know how they are racing. So now I’m really excited to be a part of that same race,” he said.
In 2010, European teams took notice of his talent when he came first in the African Championship road race, won the individual and team time trials, and came first overall in the Tour of Rwanda. But Teklehaimanot’s entry to World Tour cycling was blighted by recurring visa problems, which sabotaged his chances to compete at the highest level with his team at the time, Orica-GreenEdge.
“There are so many African riders – from Eritrea, South Africa and Rwanda – but it’s not easy to become a part of the big teams. We have to work hard, so I’m thankful for MTN-Qhubeka,” he explained.
Kudus said he felt the same. “It’s not easy when you come from Africa. There should be more invitations, and more opportunity. Especially for places like Rwanda, where riders are becoming better and better. But we need more opportunities – it’s more difficult to get to Europe for us.”
MTN’s Scottish team manager, Brian Smith said“I hope this is the beginning of a shift,” adding that there was not enough respect for black riders in the peloton.
Teklehaimanot is savouring the entire experience he said, “My family are waiting for the tour, they’ll be watching on television, and my wife is coming to Paris [for the final stage]. I’m really proud to be an Eritrean riding. It’s big for me, for the team also. I’m really happy.”