Eritrea’s commissioner of culture and sports on Saturday hailed the historic participation of two riders from his country in the Tour de France.
Daniel Teklehaimanot, 26, was first off at 1400 local time (1200 GMT) of all the 198 riders taking part in the Tour on the 13.8km opening stage timetrial as a heatwave hit the Dutch Grand Depart town of Utrecht.
He finished in a time of 16min 30sec, some way behind the leader, Australia’s Rohan Dennis, who clocked 14min 56sec.
Teklehaimanot’s fellow MTN Qhubeka teammate Merhawi Kudus, 22, was the 45th starter and came home slightly slower in 16min 47sec.
With the slowest rider so far clocking more than 17 minutes, the two Eritreans did at least avoid propping up the standings after the opening stage, although they will likely be ranked fairly low down by the end of the day.
The two Eritreans are part of the first ever African team to take part in the world’s most famous bike race. (Read: In a first, five Africans - 3 South Africans, 2 Eritreans - named to Tour de France team MTN-Qhubeka)
“It’s an incredible day, one of the most important in the history of Eritrea and one all Eritreans will remember,” said Zemede Tekle, the commissioner.
“We have a special history, cycling in Eritrea is part of our life, it’s our culture.
“It was introduced by the Italians in the 1920s, the country was colonised by the Italians, they were living there… with their culture, with their behaviours.
“So they have introduced the cycling and the Eritreans have acquired that and now it’s part of our life.”
As for what he is expecting from the pair over the three-week tour, Tekle said the country was just proud to see them on the start line.
“The very participation of two Eritreans is a lot, that’s the greatest achievement.
“We have their participation for the first time representing Africa, so this is the achievement.
“In the Tour they might be… amongst the best ones, and (we would) welcome (that). Otherwise we are already happy of the participation of Eritreans.”
And Tekle insisted Eritreans all over the global diaspora and back home in East Africa would be tuning in to the Tour to watch the progress of Teklehaimanot and Kudus.
“We have a satellite where all Eritreans in the world follows and it will be direct and every Eritrean wherever he is will follow it.”