Daniel Teklehaimanot made history in the 2015 Tour de France when he spent four days in the race’s polka-dot jersey, becoming not only the first Eritrean but the first African to wear that jersey. The success brought him to the attention of the wider cycling world and now the 27-year-old has set his sights on another first for 2016. Teklehaimanot, who is like a dog with a bone when it comes to achieving his targets, is now looking for his debut Grand Tour victory.
“I was really happy this year with my performance, and I’d like to be able to do something again next year. I hope that I can do more. I can’t say if it will be as good as this year, but I would like to be stronger,” Teklehaimanot told Cyclingnews at the team’s training camp last month. “I would like to do well in the middle of the season, I need to be strong everywhere, but I would like to win a stage of the Tour or the Vuelta.”
The 2015 Tour de France was both Teklehaimanot’s and MTN-Qhuebeka’s first appearance in the Grand Tour. They went into the race with big ambitions, and Teklehaimanot was determined to be the rider to deliver it for them. While he already had Grand Tour experience, the Tour de France was a step up from anything he’d ever done. “It was unbelievable for me, I have always said that I would really like [the mountain’s] jersey one day, and I really wanted it this year,” he said.
“It was a really good experience for me to do the Vuelta a Espana twice before. It’s a hard race but it is really different to the Tour de France. You need to give everything to survive in the [Tour]. I was a bit nervous about doing the Tour but I was really happy with my performance.”
It has been a whirlwind year for Teklehaimanot thank, mostly, to his ride at the Tour de France. There were huge crowds of Eritrean supporters following himself and his teammates Natnael Berhane and Merhawi Kudus at races, but that was nothing compared to the welcome home that he got when he returned home at the end of July. “The welcome home was really unbelievable,” he said. His success had another bonus, with his wife able to join him in Europe for the first time when he travelled to the Tour de France’s route announcement in Paris last October.
It is notoriously difficult for Eritrean nationals to leave their home country, which has meant that Teklehaimanot has been forced to spend the European season away from his family. He hopes that this will change for the coming season. “I have been with my wife for four years, but she couldn’t come to my races, which was really hard and tough. But now I’d like her to come with me to all my races,” explained Teklehaimanot.
Next year will be an important one for Teklehaimanot no matter what happens, with Dimension Data stepping up to the WorldTour in 2016. Unlike many of his fellow Africans, Teklehaimanot already has WorldTour experience after spending two years with Orica-GreenEdge. The move was one that held a lot of promise but problems with visas meant that he was unable to race large parts of his second season. He has now been at MTN-Qhubeka (Dimension Data in 2016) for two years, and he’s enjoying the opportunity to return to the top flight.
“In the past, I was in a WorldTour team, and it was a really busy programme. Now I would like to think that I can survive in the WorldTour races and maybe win some big races,” said Teklehaimanot.
Teklehaimanot is also looking forward to working with his new teammates. “For me, it is really good to be with such experienced riders,” Teklehaimanot told Cyclingnews. “Of course, the team has really changed because it will be WorldTour next year and we have really strong riders like Mark Cavendish, Bernie Eisel and Cameron Meyer, so many riders that are strong and I think we need the best in the team to become one of the best in the world.”