Africans will soon be Tour contenders: Cavendish

Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot held the polka-dot jersey for four days in last year's Tour de France.
Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot held the polka-dot jersey for four days in last year's Tour de France.

MONTAUBAN (France) • British sprint king Mark Cavendish believes Africa will have a Tour de France contender within 10 years.

Grand Tour champions such as Briton Chris Froome, Spain's Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana of Colombia need strong cardiovascular and endurance capabilities.

These are areas in which east Africans in particular excel in athletics, so it is logical that African riders should be competitive in cycling.

And Cavendish, who rides for African team Dimension Data, believes it is only a matter of time before that happens.

"Within 10 years there can be a great rider for the continent of Africa," he said.

"I won't tell you who, but I think in this team we have the first big rider of black origin in cycling."

Two Eritreans are on the Dimension Data Tour team this year: Daniel Teklehaimanot, 27, and Natnael Berhane, 25.

Both are accomplished climbers, one of the essential components of a Tour champion.

Last year another Eritrean, Merhawi Kudus, 22, also rode the Tour while in May he finished 37th at the Giro d'Italia.

"It's not through a lack of talent that there hasn't been a standout rider yet," added Cavendish.

"Daniel wore the polka-dot (climbers') jersey for a few days last year. That was massive for the team, for the continent and for the Qhubeka charity.

"For a black African rider to be a contender, it's not about talent, it's a cultural history thing.

"We have a feeder team at Dimension Data and the talent is coming through.

"It's incredible, if we can ingrain a cycling lifestyle - something that's not taught but is instinct - into guys, I truly believe in the next 10 years we'll be seeing the continent of Africa being the next dominant force in cycling."

Teklehaimanot won the king of the mountains jersey at the prestigious Criterium du Dauphine both this year and last, and held the polkadot jersey for four days at the 2015 Tour, where he finished 49th.

Berhane won the Tour of Turkey in 2013 and was fifth in the Tour of Austria earlier this year.

Briton Froome was born in Kenya and grew up in South Africa, benefiting from altitude training from a young age.

He has since won the Tour de France twice and is the favourite to triumph again this year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Africans will soon be Tour contenders: Cavendish'. Print Edition | Subscribe