African continental champion could follow in Chtioui's footsteps
Eritrea is better known for its long- and middle-distance runners rather than cyclists but Daniel Teklehaimanot is bucking the trend and quickly establishing a reputation as one of Africa's brightest prospects on the bike.
He won the elite men's road race in addition to the elite men's individual and team time trials at last weekend's African Continental Championships for an impressive clean sweep of the premier division of competition.
His home nation - a former Italian colony of around five million people - has been engulfed in various conflicts like neighbouring Ethiopia for the past 30 years, with an uneasy peace currently bringing relative stability to the country.
In this environment it's hardly surprising cycling wouldn't flourish - food, let alone equipment required to undertake the sport, is in short supply and training facilities are limited for athletes of any discipline.
Aiming to join illustrious alumni
Teklehaimanot was spotted by WCC coach Michel Thèze at the African Continental Championships in Morocco at the end of 2008 and at the beginning of 2009 joined the UCI's World Cycling Centre training program in Aigle, Switzerland.
Coached by Theze and Frenchman Sebastien Duclos, his progression was swift, although he was forced to undergo surgery on a heart condition that threatened to end his career last year.
Nevertheless, following his recovery Teklehaimanot finished sixth overall at that year's Tour de l'Avenir just six months after the operation.
And the 22-year-old from Debarwa proved that his rookie success wasn't just good luck, winning stage one of the Coupe des nations Ville Saguenay in France in June this year in addition to second in the Berner Rundfahrt in Switzerland and fifth in the GP du Portugal.
He's been a stagiare with the Cervélo Test Team since August this year, although the demise of the Swiss squad has left Teklehaimanot with few options for next season.
While his coaches admit that he's still a 'rough diamond' that needs to grow accustomed to riding in big bunches, many agree that the potential of this cyclist is strong, should he remain within the sport.
His case is reminiscent of Rafai Chtioui, the Tunisian graduate of the World Cycling Centre who now rides for Acqua e Sapone. After spending several years riding on the African continental he was handed a chance at European competition with the Italian squad this season.
The 24-year-old beat the likes of Ian Stannard and Tejay Van Garderen in the espoirs time trial at the 2007 UCI Road World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and finished 12th and 11th overall at this year's editions of the Four Days of Dunkerque and the Tour of Belgium respectively.
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