An African Cycling Dream

As this year’s Tour de France has played out, the decision to include Team MTN-Qhubeka in the race has been vindicated on a number of occasions.

When the team lined up at the start of the race they made history and then the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey found a home on the team truck.

Below is a piece I did on Team MTN-Qhubeka as it appeared in the July issue of Foschini SportsClub Monthly.

It was shortly after midday on the 14th of January this year that Doug Ryder’s phone beeped and lit up.

The message from Christian Prudhomme, the director of Le Tour, was a simple one.

‘Welcome to the Tour de France! Please call me back,’ it read. But those 10 words had massive ramifications for the sport on the African continent as Ryder, the team principal for MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung, says.

He’s still got the text message lingering on his phone.

“When I called him back I was in a state of shock and we laughed on the phone , I will never forget that day. It was such a relief, disbelief, so many things in my head that came forward – of all the people that have been involved and partners that helped build this team to this point,” Ryder says of their involvement in this year’s renewal of cycling’s greatest race.

“It means a huge amount, we have all worked so hard, the riders, staff and the partners to get here. Sometimes we wondered if this was ever going to be possible.

“When we were getting beaten up in the races we worked harder and told the riders that this is a journey and one day the door will open when you realise that you have what it takes to be successful in the world tour.”

This year’s event begins in Utrecht with the Grand Depart on July 4 and ends on the famous cobbles of the Champs-Elysees on Sunday July 26.

“When our team was announced to be in the Tour in January you can imagine the excitement and energy in the team’s first training camp at the beginning of the year. Now that we are getting closer to the Tour the riders are focusing on their performances.

“Once our team is finally announced in the coming weeks then the realisation of the incredible task ahead and all the media attention that will come with being a part of the first ever African registered team to race the Tour de France,” Ryder said of the media storm that is set to meet them in the days leading up to their debut.

The team has also been tinkering with their lineup having brought in the experience that the likes of former Tour de France stage winners Edvald Boasson Hagen – a member of victorious Team SKY in 2012 and 2013 – and Tyler Farrar to compliment the talent of Songezo Jim, Louis Meintjies as well as Reinhard and Jacques Janse van Rensburg.

“The mentorship and support of our international experienced rider group is what has helped fast track this team to success,” claimed Ryder.

“They know the roads, the riders, the races and because they well established riders in the pro peloton they have given our team the credibility it needs to not only get into the biggest races in the world but also to be respected in the bunch.

“Cycling is tough to break into and can become quite a contact sport at times and it takes years to earn your stripes in the peloton and these riders help elevate us as a team. This has helped our younger talent get to where they are today, a force to be reckoned with in cycling.”

But the team is realistic about their chances of success at the 102nd renewal and as such, they have set their goals accordingly.

“We will focus on stage wins. We have riders capable of winning stages in the sprints and in the mountains. We will be very active in the racing and try and be present in the significant breakaways on stages where breaks could survive to the finish,” explains Ryder.

“We are also targeting a leader’s jersey to wear for a few days or win overall and that jersey could be a green jersey if the stages are going well for us and/or the white jersey for best young rider,” says Ryder although he is confident that the team can handle the rigours of racing at this elite level.

“Our riders have had pressure to break though into European cycling over the last few years. They have handled the pressure well knowing that if this team is successful we might just get invited to the Tour de France.

“Now that we are on our way to Le Tour they are so motivated knowing that this is and can be the breakthrough opportunity for African cycling and sure they are a bit scared of what lies ahead but hugely motivated.

“It is going to be incredible to experience this event through the eyes of the riders and how they handle the pressure of the media and 190 other riders all wanting to make an impact on the world’s biggest annual sporting event.”

The belief that they can change the world, not only in their cycling endeavours but also off the bike through their charity endeavours runs right through the team as Ryder explains.

“We believe Team MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung has the power to transform the cycling world. The African riders are coming and doing really well.

“In the near future every World Tour team will have an African rider because of their performance and easy going nature.

“We have also targeted invitations into the biggest races in the world tour so our riders can compete at the highest level with the best riders in the world so that we can understand the bridge we need to build to become the best in the world.”

If anything, the experience of competing against the world’s best riders will be enough to keep tired legs pedalling as the race winds it’s way up the Pyrenees and through the Alps.

“The door is now open. It is going to be an incredible experience. Standing on the start line in Utrecht will be the start of the next chapter of our journey.”

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