Eritrean cyclist earns King of the Mountains jersey at Tour de France

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MTN-Qhubeka rider Daniel Teklehaimanot of Eritrea (L) wtih two racers on his tail during a break away in the 6th stage of the Tour de France race from Abbeville to Le Havre, France, July 9, 2015. 

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

A 26-year-old African cyclist from Eritrea landed the distinction of the King of the Mountains at the Tour de France Thursday.

And to prove it, Daniel Teklehaimanot proudly put on the "maillot à pois rouges," otherwise known as the polka dot jersey. He took the jersey from Spainard Joaquim Rodriguez after surging to the top of the three small climbs that make up Thursday's stage, earning enough points to pull ahead. The jersey generally signifies a rider to watch as the tournament progresses.

MTN-Qhubeka rider Daniel Teklehaimanot of Eritrea wears the best climber jersey on the podium after the 118.9 mile, 6th stage of the 102nd Tour de France cycling race from Abbeville to Le Havre, France, July 9, 2015. 


Eric Gaillard/Reuters 

Teklehaimanot made his mark in the world of cycling during the sixth stage of the Tour de France, along the 118-mile stretch from the French city of Abbeville to Le Havre.

"What a moment for African cycling! What a moment for Eritrea, and what a moment for Daniel Teklehaimanot as he gives the thumbs up!" shouted the BBC Sports announcer as Teklehaimanot reached the last mountain top of stage six.

"I am proud to be African and I am proud to be Eritrean. This is a day I will never forget," Teklehaimanot said.

"It's really important for us, for Eritrea, and for my teammates, and for all of Africa," Teklehaimanot added after the race ended. "I was dreaming one day to do this, to stand on the podium with the mountain jersey."

He should be proud. Teklehaimanot is the first black man to wear a leader's jersey in the Tour de France, and he rides on first African team ever to compete there, MTN-Qhubeka Qhubeka is a word used by the Nguni people of southern Africa, meaning "carry on" or "move forward."

"It was a dream come true just to get an African team to the Tour because we worked so hard over the last few years," says Qhubeka team principal Doug Ryder. "We wanted to try to win stages and to wear leaders' jerseys, and Daniel pulled it off! It was really tough riding against two French riders in the breakaway, so it's fantastic for Eritrea and African cycling!"

The grueling race across the French countryside is far from over. Several crashes this week upset the standings and racers haven't even reached the halfway point yet.