Eritrean cyclist among the favourite as 2015 Tour de France got underway

Harare- Eritrean cyclist Daniel Teklehaimanot got the 2015 Tour de France underway in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday on an historic day for cycling as Africa finally made its presence in the world’s most prestigious cycling race.

An estimated 800 000 strong crowd was on hand to see the 102nd Tour de France explode into life, on an historic day for the iconic race, as it embraced the arrival of African cyclists and a first appearance by a team from the continent, the trailblazing Team MTN-Qhubeka.

Teklehaimanot, the 26-year-old from Eritrea, got the race underway but it was his teammate, Steve Cummings of the United Kingdom, who grabbed the headlines, at the end of the first stage, after storming into the top 10 in a remarkable performance for Team MTN-Qhubeka.

Team MTN-Qhubeka general manager, Brian Smith, even believes that there could be a stage victory for Teklehaimanot during this year’s Tour de France. 

“We’ve always known he’s good but now people are starting to believe, too, after the Dauphiné. There will be a lot of opportunities for Daniel in this Tour,” said Smith, who said his team’s historic participation in this year’s Tour de France is a game-changer.

“The ideal would be a stage win, but if there’s an opportunity, we’ll chase the climber’s jersey as well.”

Africa is seen as the last frontier to be conquered by cycling and there are huge expectations that the participation of MTN-Qhubeka in this year’s Tour de France will be a turning point for African cycling and the thousands of talented cyclists on the continent.

Team MTN-Qhubeka received one of the wildcard invitations to be part of the Tour de France and this meant that, after a century of racing, the Tour de France, at long last, embraced a team from Africa to be part of the battle for the yellow jersey.

“This is huge for African cycling. This is the first black African to race the Tour,” Smith, told VeloNews.

“The amount of euphoria in Africa is just massive. It was a privilege to become the first African team to get the invitation.”

And, after the euphoria and success of Africa’s first dance at the Tour de France, Team MTN-Qhubeka were, as expected, in celebratory mood.

“It was a magnificent start to our first Le Tour de France as Steve Cummings stormed home to a terrific 10th place,” Team MTN-Qhubeka roared on their official Facebook page.

“The 1st stage of the Tour de France was a spectacle unrivalled by anything else we have experienced. We could not have hoped for a better start to our Grande Boucle either with Steve Cummings finishing in a terrific 10th place.

“It was a day of so many highs for Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung with Daniel Teklehaimanot being the first rider to get the 102nd Tour de France started as he rolled off the start ramp at 14:00 in Utrecht.

“The crowds, which were bursting at the seams at around 800 000 strong, made for an unbelievable atmosphere which really motivated our African team.

“Each of our riders put in strong rides with our Briton Steve Cummings storming home in an exceptional time of 15’28” over the 13.8km course. Steve’s time would be good enough for 10th on the day, an exceptional performance against 198 of the best riders in the world.”

Cummings described his fine performance, and the historic day for both the Tour de France and African cycling, as a “super day” and even felt that he could have done better had he not been, somehow, overawed by the occasion with virtually most of the focus on the team and its cyclists.

He said it was his mission to deliver for the team but, given that they were taking on the best cyclists in the world, it was never going to be easy.

Team MTN-Qhubeka’s Head of Performance, Jens Zemke, felt that his men made a huge impression on the opening day of the Tour de France and delivered a performance, under the globe’s spotlight, which needed to make everyone proud.

He also felt that his cyclists were inspired by the massive crowd that lined up to see history in the making at the Tour de France.

“I think we can be really proud and really happy with the result we achieved,” said Zemke.

“A top 10 in the opening stage is what we wanted, it was what we were trying to achieve and Steve did. The crowd was also amazing being at the Tour de France for the first time, so Steve finishing 10th is beautiful.” 

MTN-Qhubeka’s Four Other African Riders And Smith’s Analysis Of Them 

Merhawi Kudus, 21 (Eritrea): He’s our youngest rider, and among the youngest in the Tour. He’s here to gain experience, and to try to get into some breakaways. He’s a huge talent, with a big future. 

 Louis Meintjes, 23 (South Africa): “He’s already shown what he’s capable of. If he doesn’t come away with a stage win here, I would be disappointed. This is his second grand tour, and in his first [2014 Vuelta a España], he was fifth on a stage. We saw him climbing strong in the Dauphiné.”

Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, 26 (South Africa): He’s always there, always consistent. He’s got a big motor, and we want to see him get into breakaways, to attack.”

Jacques Janse van Rensburg, 26 (South Africa): “He has a lot of responsibilities, and he’s one of our workhorses. These guys are not afraid of getting into the breakaways. This team is not frightened of anyone, and like we saw last year at the Vuelta, Jacques will be riding into the breakaways.”

July 2015
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