• I have a dream... Daniel Teklehaimanot pulls on the polka-dot jersey of best climber. (EPA)Source: EPA
While its main attractions has failed to deliver, its lesser known riders have become shining stars. Welcome to MTN-Qhubeka, writes Anthony Tan.
10 Jul 2015 - 10:49 PM  UPDATED 11 Jul 2015 - 8:55 AM

MTN-Qhubeka already had one sprinter in Gerald Ciolek, but in the second half of last year it signed another four for a song: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Theo Bos, Matthew Goss and Tyler Farrar.

At one of its first races of the year, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, I asked Farrar how it could work - was he banking on the rest being out of touch?

Teklehaimanot’s polka dot jersey an historic moment for Africa
Daniel Teklehaimanot climbed his way into history books on Stage 6 as he became the first African rider to wear the Polka Dot jersey for the best climber at the Tour de France.

"You saw it with HTC (High Road) back in the day. They had four or five great sprinters, and they all had their chances, and the all they all won races.

"Part of the deal coming to the team was, while you would get to sprint for yourself, you would also have to work (for others) sometimes. We all knew that, coming onto the team; sometimes it will be Goss, sometimes it will be Ciolek, sometimes Boasson Hagen... And the thought is, instead of bopping around, trying the sprint for yourself with minimal support, OK, you're going to have less total opportunities, but when you do get your chance, you're going to have a pretty amazing team backing you up, with the guys we have. And that's pretty huge."

Can this nation of runners and walkers one day become a nation of cyclists, and, in the face of certain prejudices among their peers, indeed produce the first black African winner of Le Grand Shindig?

Knowing they were set to make history at the Tour de France, becoming the first African team to enter the world's greatest bike race, would also give the riders a massive filip, said Farrar.

"It's really cool to be a part of. You feel the energy within the team. The morale is so high in the team, and everyone's so motivated and excited. And it's pretty refreshing. Once you've been a pro for a while, you can get a bit jaded and get in the routine of professional life and just tap it out. It'd be an honour, to be a part of that."

Sounds good in theory, but how has it gone in practice?

Well, outside out the national championships, so far, only one of their "Fab Five" has actually won a race - Boasson Hagen's victory on Stage 5 of the Tour des Fjords in Norway. Hardly headline-grabbing.

As for other podium places, well, quite frankly, that's been rather sparse, too. Again in Norway, Boasson Hagen racked up a second place on another stage as well as second overall, and third on Stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné. Farrar finished second on Stage 3 at the Sun Tour. Ciolek ran second on Stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico, and scored a third place on Stage 2 of the Tour of Austria.

And that's about it.

Admittedly, against considerable opposition - no one said it'd be easy to beat the likes of John Degenkolb, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Alexander Kristoff et al. and their much moneyed teams - the team, quite simply, has failed to deliver.

Still, what riders like Boasson Hagen, Ciolek, Farrar have done is provide guidance to their up-and-coming talent from Africa, which, according to its website, is largely why the team exists: "To give talented African riders a path into the pro peloton while raising funds for the Qhubeka charity."

Daniel Teklehaimanot may feel like an overnight sensation, but he is anything but. The 26-year-old is a product of the UCI's World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland and, since 2008, plied his trade as an amateur in Europe, before turning pro for Orica-GreenEDGE in 2012.

He has long dreamed of wearing the maillot à pois, and on Thursday in Le Havre, three weeks after topping the classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné, he realised the hitherto impossible.

Danny T (that's what the Orica-GreenEDGE boys called him because his surname was simply too long and too difficult to pronounce) probably won't win the polka-dot jersey this year. There's a glut of great grimpeurs in this year's Tour. Yet it seems that for the Africans at least on this feelgood set-up, their destiny is to first challenge then realise the impossible - and then go beyond it...

Merhawi Kudus, Teklehaimanot's 21-year-old compatriot, despite being just a second-year pro and the youngest rider in this year's race, has even grander plans: he wants to one day win the whole shebang. That's right, he wants to win not just any tour, but the Tour.

Can this nation of runners and walkers one day become a nation of cyclists, and, in the face of certain prejudices among their peers, indeed produce the first black African winner of Le Grand Shindig?

I wouldn't bet against it. To me, it seems it's only a matter of time.

And when it does happen, it'll be as big as Obama.

Getting to the Tour de France is known for being incredibly tough, but what about when even just owning a bicycle is nearly an impossible dream? Dateline on Tuesday 21 July: follow three years in the trial and triumphs of the African Cycling Team.