Froome sees east Africans as top cyclists one day

VANNES (France) • Tour de France leader Chris Froome expects east Africans to one day dominate cycling the way they do distance running.

Ethiopians and Kenyans have been powerhouses in long- and middle-distance running for decades but so far in cycling, another endurance sport, the region has yet to make a ripple. That has begun to change at this year's Tour, thanks to Eritreans Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus.

While Kudus, 22, has been quiet so far and sits 166th, Teklehaimanot, 26, is the current holder of the king-of-the-mountains jersey and sits a very respectable 111th out of 185 riders.

The rise of east Africans is only a matter of time, said Froome, a Kenyan-born Briton.

"They are potentially the best endurance athletes in the world given their physiology and their upbringing at altitude.

"At the moment, the biggest problem they're struggling with is infrastructure, the roads to train on, equipment, and the federations are a bit of a mess. It's the wild west up there but I really think it's a huge area for development for the future."

Teklehaimanot has proved over the last month that he has great potential, winning the mountains jersey at the June Criterium du Dauphine and getting in breakaways on successive days at the Tour.

He has made a deliberate effort to be visible during the Tour to raise the profile of his MTN-Qhubeka team, the first African outfit invited to the Grand Boucle.

Qhubeka have a project that aims to get talented African riders into the professional ranks.

Said Teklehaimanot last Thursday after claiming the prestigious polka-dot jersey: "I am excited to be able to show my team's colours on the podium because we are trying to give 5,000 bicycles to African students. Being on the podium will help our project and I want to help make a difference for my African people." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Froome sees east Africans as top cyclists one day'. Print Edition | Subscribe