What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Talk: MTN-Qhubeka’s Boss, Douglas Ryder

Douglas Ryder is the man behind luring Gerald Ciolek away from arguably the best one day team in the World to a small up and coming African outfit. He’s a man with a mission, clear goals and a strong work ethic for both he and his troops. Ed Hood caught up with Ryder just before their huge success in La Primavera to talk about his hopes and dreams for the team that has got the cycling world talking.


It seemed a strange move for Gerald Ciolek to move from arguably the world’s best ‘one day’ team – the mighty QuickStep – and the World Tour with a guaranteed start in every one of the world’s major races, to the new comers to the Pro Continental ranks, MTN-Qhubeka. But the German’s decision has paid off handsomely; he was top five in Laigueglia, won the bunch sprint for 11th in Gent-Gent and then there was a stage win in the Three days of West Flanders. If you knew what you were looking at it was obvious this was a highly motivated man with a point to prove.

We tipped him for a podium in Mialn-Sanremo; but when we saw the composition of the lead group of six ripping in to Sanremo on Sunday we knew there was only going to be one winner. Ciolek is one of the very fastest and neither Sagan nor Cancellara could best him.

The man behind this coup is a small dapper South African called Douglas Ryder; we spoke to him not long before the Primavera to her what he had to say about his ‘team with a dream.’ Just to remind you who’s behind the team, here’s what Douglas explained to us back at the Worlds, last September;

“MTN is Africa’s Movistar, if you like; they’re a telecoms company who operate in 21 African countries.

Qhubeka is part of World Bike Relief; it’s a Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on”, “to progress”, “to move forward”. Qhubeka projects aim to help rural communities move forward and progress by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community.

Samsung have just come aboard as a new partner, it all fits – they’re about mobility; MTN provide the mobile networks and we want to mobilize the kids. To that end, more than 100,000 bikes have been distributed since 2004″

We began by asking about him what was involved in moving his team up from Continental status in 2012 to Pro Continental in 2013.

PEZ: What’s involved in upgrading the team status, Douglas?

It’s not easy moving from Division Three to Division Two. At Continental level you deal with your national federation but at Pro Continental and Pro Tour levels you have to deal with the UCI and Ernst & Young the accountants. They audit you, check your finances and make sure that you have all the relevant insurances in place. It’s a detailed process but it’s good because it protects the riders at the end of the day. It was a big relief when we got word that we had the licence.

We didn’t make the first ‘cut’ because there were aspects of South African tax law which Ernst & Young weren’t familiar with. The thing about Pro Continental status is that it’s not such a big step to Pro Tour because you’re riding against them in many of the races.

You’ve recruited some handy guys – Gerald Ciolek, Ignatas Konovalovas and Sergio Pardilla.

It wasn’t just about recruiting good riders – we wanted mentors for the young riders, too. Gerald set a great opening example with fifth in Laigueglia and Sergio was third on GC in Langkawi – it’s been a great start for us and an excellent example set to the young riders on the squad. I think that the training camps we held were very influential in bringing the team together and building motivation.

Sergio Pardilla raced to a fine 3rd place on GC in Langkawi.

The team videos you’ve been sending out to the media have been well received.

We have a story to tell about the greater cause we represent.

When the riders went to Africa to see at first hand what our core beliefs are about, they were motivated by what they saw. We’re helping to open up a new continent to cycling and using social media is part of that. We want people to get belief back in cycling and to see that this is a unique team. There’ll no cloud of doubt over any of our riders when they win.

How has the South African media reacted to the team?

They’ve been really good; there’s never been a South African team at this level before and we’ve received a lot of exposure – the South African public is sports crazy and they’re becoming aware of us. MTN is a huge company with 500 shops and a vast number of customers; they’ve been very supportive. As have Trek, they’re very happy with the opportunity to be involved in Africa.

Is a win at Pro Continental level by a black African rider one of your ambitions?

I think it’s possible, if you look at middle distance running, it’s dominated by African runners and there’s a pool of quality athletes waiting to be discovered. They’re good climbers and I see a stage in as being possible.

How have you been accepted in the peloton?

It’s tough in the Pro Continental ranks, there are a lot of teams competing for places – Columbia, IAM, NetApp-Endura, Champion Systems . They all have their unique proposition, so we’re rivals for places in races . But the big teams, like GreenEdge have welcomed us; we’re not competing against them for race slots. It’s all about performance, around a billion people watch cycling on TV throughout the world and teams want that visibility.

I guess you could say that 50% of teams welcomed us and the other 50% look at our quality and talent as well as the fact that we’re pioneers and perhaps don’t see us as welcome . . .

Will you still be able to ride African races?

We can ride UCI 2.2 but you can’t ride the lower rated UCI races which you could as a Continental team.

The Worlds Team Time Trial Championships were a landmark for you.

Fabulous – we thought we’d be stone last, we only had eight riders to pick from, three of whom were 60 kg climbers – but we finished 23rd and not so far away from a much higher finish.

Douglas looking relaxed as his team warmed up for the 2012 World TTT Championships.

This year, one of our goals is to finish top 15 in the Worlds TTT – it was just so good to be able to show off our colours to the world at the highest level.

What are the goals for 2013?

We want to finish in the top 15 teams on the European Tour – that would qualify us for the Worlds TTT. We want to win 10 UCI races and to take the South African National Road Championship – which will be hard given we can’t field a full team, obviously.

And we want to show that Africa has a voice in World Cycling.

With Louis Mentjies winning the RSA U23 and TT and road titles, Jay Thomson taking the elite road race plus Ciolek’s wins in Stage 2 of the Three Days of West Flanders and Primavera, the team is half way to that ten win target – and that’s before it has even stopped snowing!

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