What's Cool In Road Cycling

MTN-Qhubeka gives credit to cycling’s globalization

A big attraction of the 2014 Vuelta a España will be the participation of the South-African based MTN-Qhubeka. Never before had an African team taken part in a Grand Tour. This is more than a symbol, as the squad managed by Douglas Ryder is so much more than just a cycling team.

Ten years ago, eight teams out of twenty one on the start list of the Vuelta a España were from Spain. Only two, Movistar and Caja Rural, will line up on Saturday at Jerez de la Frontera. “The event has a much bigger worldwide impact nowadays”, general director Javier Guillén noticed. “We now have teams from all continents!”

Astana being from Asia (Kazakhstan), Orica-GreenEdge from Oceania (Australia), Garmin-Sharp and BMC Racing Team from America (USA), the world is fully covered by the presence of MTN-Qhubeka presented by Samsung, which is the first ever African team to take part in a Grand Tour. Cycling was predominantly a purely European sport only a few years ago.

“It was always our dream to take an African team to the highest level of cycling”, said MTN-Qhubeka principal Douglas Ryder. “I must truly thank Unipublic for giving us this opportunity to participate in La Vuelta. It is fitting that Africa’s first ever team to race a Grand Tour starts the one Grand Tour that is closest to the African Continent [in the very south of Spain]. We wanted to bring African riders to the biggest one-day races – the monuments – and to the Grand Tours. But we don’t want to only participate. We want to deliver results through stage wins or some distinctive jersey.” MTN is a telephone operator and Qhubeka a foundation that donates bicycles for African kids to be able to go to school.

In March, when being granted a wild-card, Ryder said he aimed at lining up a team composed of a minimum of 50% of African riders. He achieved more than that with the selection of South Africans Louis Meintjes, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Jay Thompson and Jaco Venter as well as Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus from Eritrea, which is two third of the team along with Spain’s Sergio Pardilla who is the team’s GC rider after he finished 5th at the Vuelta a Burgos, Italy’s Kristian Sbaragli and Germany’s Gerald Ciolek who seeks bunch sprint finishes and the green jersey of the points classification.

“It’s great that our team can ride the Vuelta”, Ciolek commented. “It’s a big step forward. I believe the race suits us and particularly our climbers.” In terms of climbing, the winner of the 2013 Milan-San Remo referred to Pardilla, Meintjes who was the runner up at the U23 world championship this year and delivered interesting results in stage races at the age of 22 [5th at the Giro del Trentino], as well as Kudus.

Kudus is a phenomenon. Aged 20, he’s expected to be the youngest rider of the Vuelta. He’s a pure climber. This year, he already finished 2nd at Le Tour de Langkawi, 4th in the queen stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey and 5th in the overall classification of the Route du Sud behind no less than Nicolas Roche, Alejandro Valverde, Michael Rogers, all on Tour de France form, and Konstantsin Siutsou. Like another Eritrean, Natnael Berhane, racing under the colors of Europcar, Kudus will ride his first Grand Tour while their compatriot Teklehaimanot already took part in the Vuelta with Orica-GreenEdge in 2012.

“I’m not racing the Vuelta but I strongly hope my team-mates will do well during those three weeks”, said Songezo Jim who is the icon of black South African riders as he hails from the Eastern Cape with the same geographical origins as Nelson Mandela. “We are aware that good results at the Vuelta are also important for the team to qualify for the next Tour de France like NetApp-Endura did at the Vuelta last year with Leo König.”

Also in cycling, it’s time for Africa!

More info on www.lavuelta.com

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