BY NEAL ROGERS | CYCLINGTIPS
While 2018 WorldTour racing has begun, Eritrean star Daniel Teklehaimanot is currently without a contract. However, his former boss, Dimension Data for Qhubeka team manager Doug Ryder, told CyclingTips he expects Teklehaimanot to announce his signing with a new team “soon.”
Teklehaimanot, who hails from Debarwa but resides in Lucca, Italy, did not return correspondence seeking information on his 2018 status. His agent, Andrew McQuaid of Trinity Sports Management, said he was unable to comment, signaling that while no contract has been signed, there have been agreements “in principle” with an undisclosed team.
Teklehaimanot came up through the UCI World Cycling Centre and placed sixth overall in France’s Tour de l’Avenir in 2009 before turning pro with Orica-GreenEdge for 2012-13. He spent four seasons with Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka as the highest-profile black African rider on the South African team.
In June 2015, he won the King of the Mountains classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the team’s first classification jersey at a WorldTour stage race. A month later he and Merhawi Kudus set a significant cultural milestone in professional cycling, becoming the first black Africans to compete in the Tour de France. Kudus was the youngest rider of the 2015 Tour, while Teklehaimanot spent four days in the KOM jersey, the first black African to wear a Tour de France classification jersey of any kind.
Teklehaimanot has also been Eritrean national road champion on three occasions, and national time-trial champion four times. In May 2017, he held the blue Mountains jersey at the Giro d’Italia for two days.
That was not enough, however, for Dimension Data to renew Teklehaimanot’s contract. The team’s 2018 roster consists of four other Eritrean riders — Merhawi Kudus, Mekseb Debesay, Natnael Berhane, and Amanuel Gebreigzabhier — and nine riders from South Africa.
Nickolas Dlamini, a 22-year-old black South African rider in his first year on the WorldTour after spending two years with the team’s Continental squad, recently secured the KOM title at the Santos Tour Down Under.
Ryder said that while the team remains focused on developing African talent, priorities have shifted since bringing sprint star Mark Cavendish into the squad in 2016. Cavendish, 32, is currently second on the list of all-time Tour de France stage wins, with 30, just four less than Eddy Merckx, and Ryder said breaking that record is a focus for the team.
“Daniel was with us for four years, and we gave him a good inning, and in those four years he rode two Tours de France, one Vuelta a España, and one Giro d’Italia,” Ryder told CyclingTips at the Santos Tour Down Under.
“So Daniel was an amazing guy. When we look at Daniel, and his development in our team, and what our focus is going forward, with Mark Cavendish, in terms of trying to go beyond Eddy Merckx’s record, and then Louis Meintjes coming into the team to be a GC rider… Daniel is an opportunistic rider, and we just didn’t have space for him anymore.”
Ryder added that the team continues to find the right balance between developing African talent and making sure it remains its position in the UCI WorldTour, adding that Teklehaimanot had not won a race for the squad, other than national championship titles, in four years.
“If you think of us keeping a Daniel, we wouldn’t bring in Nickolas Dlamini, so we have to keep the flow going, so we can bring riders from our Continental team up, and keep the African dream alive. We have a Continental team of 10 Africans in it — with Ethiopians, Rwandans, Algerians, Moroccans — so if we’re not showing that movement… Unfortunately Daniel had his chances with us, and he had a lot of good exposure, but in the end, last year, he only gave us five WorldTour points. He hadn’t won a race in four years with us.
“It’s complicated,” Ryder continued. “Thirteen out of our 27 riders are African. So some people are saying, ‘Oh, are you still serious about African cycling?’ Ten in our feeder team, 13 in our WorldTour team, and we’re at the bottom of the WorldTour rankings. That’s what people must also understand. If we stay at the bottom of the WorldTour, and then we lose our license in the promotion/relegation [system]. Then Dimension Data and our partners don’t want to support us because they want to be in the first division. Then the whole of African cycling is over.”
One former member of the team, who requested anonymity, told CyclingTips he believed there was a bit of an “attitude clash” between the team management and Teklehaimanot, saying, “In general, I had the impression that he didn’t feel the team believed in him, and the team felt he wasn’t appreciative enough.”
Asked to comment, Ryder said that wasn’t a fully accurate assessment.
“Daniel was amazing, but we gave him every opportunity and we just decided not to continue with him,” Ryder said. “He knew that, and he understood why I guess. Daniel is a really nice guy. He’s a super, super good person, he’s got a beautiful wife and child. He’s a really nice guy and there was never anything that happened between us. Of course, sometimes the guys were hoping he would have focused more on the team plan, but other than that he’s a good rider and a really nice person.”
And though Teklehaimanot is currently without a contract for the first time in six years, Ryder believes the 29-year-old hasn’t pinned on a race number for the last time.
“He’s a good enough guy to potentially get a contract on another team, and I believe he has,” Ryder said. “So that should be announced soon.”
CyclingTips Australian editor Matt de Neef contributed to this report.