By Sadhbh O’Shea,
FOR Daniel Teklehaimanot, the path through professional cycling has been tricky and, at times, hugely frustrating. A former African road and time trial champion, there was a lot of excitement around his signing with Orica-GreenEdge in 2012. However, the relationship was doomed to fail with visa problems blighting much of Teklehaimanot’s time at the team.
After a season with the MTN-Qhubeka team, Teklehaimanot is feeling positive about the year ahead and takes confidence from a good finish at Vuelta a España last season.
“For myself, I have good confidence about my condition. I think I will do some more WorldTour races but the big race is the Tour de France. It is my dream for a long time and for the Africans, and now there are more Africans coming. I am really excited for that,” he told Cyclingnews. “I think that we can do as well as we did in the Vuelta a España or better than.”
Teklehaimanot rode the Vuelta a España for the second time last season as one of only three riders in the team to have ridden a Grand Tour in the past. The 26-year-old made history for Eritrea in 2012 when he became the first from the African nation to ride the Vuelta a España. This year could be equally as ground breaking for the country with three Eritreans in with a shot of riding this year’s Tour de France, including Natnael Berhane and Merhawi Kudus. For Teklehaimanot, it isn’t about making history again he just wants to ride the Tour and bring as many of his compatriots as possible.
“Now we are three (Eritrean) riders in the team. If I want to be part of the team then I need to be in a good condition. I don’t mind if I am the first Eritrean or second Eritrean, it is no problem for me. I just want to be there and in a good condition,” he explained. “It is really important for everybody and it will be a great feeling to be part of a race like the Tour de France. Everybody will be excited. Hopefully my dream will come true.”
The move to MTN-Qhubeka has made life much easier for Teklehaimanot, something that his compatriot Berhane can look forward to this season. It allowed him to ride a much fuller programme that included some of the biggest races on the calendar, such as Milan-San Remo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour de Suisse and his return to the Vuelta. It was a stark contrast to his previous season where he was unable to begin his racing until the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and rode only five further events following it.
“When I finished last year, I had a lot of visa problems with the team so I couldn’t continue with the team,” he explained. “(In 2013) the Italian ambassador gave me a visa, in the second part of the season but he only gave it to me for three months.”
MTN-Qhubeka was the perfect option. “I really wanted to be on an African team. I was really happy to be a part of that,” said Teklehaimanot. “They understand everything and I am really grateful of that because, firstly I was back on my bike. I was part of the team and it’s a home team. I am really grateful to them.
“The team has changed with the riders that have come in but we will be more successful this year.”