MTN-Qhubeka are not content with their ground-breaking appearance as the Tour de France’s first-ever African trade team, they want to go home with something to show for it. Daniel Teklehaimanot – who was already making history by being the first Eritrean and first black African to ride the Tour – has given them something to cheer about after he mopped up all the king of the mountains points on stage 6 to take the polka-dot jersey.
Teklehaimanot has had a lot of ups and downs in his life, on and off the bike, and stepping out onto the Tour’s podium was a momentous moment for the 26-year-old and you could hardly wipe the smile off his face afterwards. “It’s really important to take the mountain jersey for me, my team, for my country and for all of Africans,” said Teklehaimanot.
With only one point available on Friday’s stage 7, Teklehaimanot will be in the jersey for at least two days but he could hold it until the rest day. Teklehaimanot is in this for the long haul though and he’s determined to take the jersey all the way home to Eritrea. “I want to hold it until the end in Paris but it’s not easy to keep this jersey,” said Teklehaimanot. “For one rider for one day on the podium is enough. I would be happy to keep it just for one day but obviously I would like to keep it for all the race.”
The emotion in the MTN-Qhubeka team was high following Thursday’s stage. For team principal Doug Ryder, this jersey is a culmination of many years hard work that began when the team was founded back in 2007. “It’s a huge day, and he’s an incredible guy. Our plan was to wear a leader’s jersey for a day or two and it was either the king of the mountains jersey or the best young rider’s jersey,” Ryder told Cyclingnews.
“We were going for stage wins and for a leader’s jersey. Daniel was so motivated, because it’s a jersey that he absolutely loves. It’s a jersey that shows aggression, it shows passion, it shows commitment and it shows dedication and hard work. For him to wear it, it’s his dream come true.”
Teklehaimanot has been on great form of late, taking the Critérium du Dauphiné’s mountains jersey last month – another historic moment for the team – and his national time trial championship. The Eritrean has had a long road towards this success. He began his cycling career at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre and had stints as a stagiaire for Amore & Vita-McDonald's and Cervélo Test Team before he signed with Orica-GreenEdge in 2012.
He made history as the first Eritrean at the Vuelta a España but his tenure in the WorldTour wasn’t all smooth sailing, and visa problems forced him to miss large swathes of the 2013 season. After a quiet season last year, Teklehaimanot is finding his form again and he was keen to help the team towards their goal.
“We had a discussion this morning, we obviously have been looking forward to this day and we wanted to have a rider up the road,” said Ryder. “Daniel always put his hand up to do something different, something unique and something significant. He was ready today. When he woke up this morning you could see the glint in his eye, he was ready, he was on it. I’m super happy for him. He’s the most incredible human being and for him to wear this jersey, for Eritrea and for the team, is unbelievable.”