Utrecht: 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 was due to start first at 1400 local time (1200 GMT) of all the 198 riders taking part in the Tour on the opening stage timetrial around Utrecht.
Alongside Merhawi Kudus, set to be the 45th starter, the two Eritreans are the first black Africans to ride the world`s most prestigious cycle race.
"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, 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."