Faces of Africa – King of The Mountains

Eritrea is a country located in the Horn of Africa, with altitudes as high as 2,300 m high and a population of over 5 million people. Since its independence, it has produced the world’s best cyclists, participating in both the Olympics and Tour de France.

“The history of cycling competition began before we were born, in 1932. It began during the Italian colonization,” says Yonas Zekeris, a championship cyclist and coach.

The Italian soldiers introduced the first bicycles in Eritrea that were mainly used for the purpose of postal exchange, and eventually became part of the nation.

During the Italian colonization when bicycles were first introduced in Eritrea for postal exchange purpose.

“We use bikes for every activity in our lives, and every child wants to own a bike,” told Misghina Haile, National Cycling Federation Secretary.

Since 1937, Eritrea hosts annual National Cycling Championships, and in 1956, it competed for the first time in the Olympic Games. The level of bicycle racing was so high that between 1956-1972, a total 19 Eritrean cyclists participated at the Olympic Games.

“The reality is that the progress we’ve achieved started back in 1946. Cycling won’t work for those who come from a comfortable life, and Daniel has come through this way,” says Yemeane Negasi, a 1964 and 1968 Olympic Cyclist.

Daniel Teklehaimanot at the Tour de France in 2015.

Daniel Teklehaimanot is a pioneering icon of African cycling and a trailblazer who has competed internationally in both the Tour de France and Olympic Games.

Daniel’s legacy started when he became the first Eritrean to be selected to train at the World’s Cycling Centre (UCI) in Switzerland. The UCI is a coaching and training centre for athletes that offers the best tools to enable them develop, grow and perform at all levels of sports. His ability to absorb knowledge there took his career to the next level and went back to Eritrea a better rider.

In 2015, Daniel was selected to ride in the Tour de France along with his teammate, Merhawi Kudus. They were the first black African cyclists to compete and finish the cycling race.

Daniel Teklehaimanot with his fans wearing the King of The Mountains jersey in 2015 at the Tour de France.

However, Daniel’s ground-breaking achievements did not stop there. During the first week of the race, Teklehaimanot became the first African rider to wear the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour de France. For the four days that he wore the prestigious polka dot jersey reserved for the best climber in the race, he was entitled the world’s best cyclist.

“Yeah, it’s really a lot of pressure. You can’t believe it at that moment,” told Daniel Teklehaimanot.

Eritrean cyclists waiting to compete during a local competition organized by the National Cycling Federation.

It was as that time that Daniel heard of his father’s passing on when he was in Italy after the Olympics. It was just before that that he had presented his Tour de France trophy to him.

“Last year I saw him after Nationals – It was the last time I saw him,” said Daniel.

Daniel still rides and maintains his legacy both locally by training the young upcoming riders and internationally, by holding his world record.

Daniel Teklehaimanot celebrating his victory

Eritrea still has a strong racing culture due to people like Misghina Haile, the National Cycling Federation Secretary and other organizers who organise various kinds of races every Sunday.