Cycling SA President, William Newman, has experienced first hand some of the ins-and-outs of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France during his first trip to the event this week. “It is simply indescribable,” he said. “You only hear about it and read about it, but when you are there at the start and finish, the atmosphere is unbelievable! You know that you’re in cycling territory.”
Newman was warmly welcomed by Tour de France organisers, ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) as the National Federation President and an African representative, recognising the great strides being made in globalising the sport.
The public truly embraces the ’Tour as it passes from town to town, and the African influence is already making its mark on one of the world’s greatest cycling events. Newman is immensely proud of what Team Principal, Doug Ryder has achieved and that four South Africans started the Tour de France (Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Louis Meintjes (all Team MTN-Qhubeka) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge).
“It is difficult to visit the riders at any time as there are quite a few constraints. I’ve been able to make contact with each of them and speak a word of encouragement whenever I can, as well as call out to them from the vehicle when we pass them on the route. They smile in acknowledgment. I was very sorry to see Daryl exit the Tour after the big crash on stage three.”
Impey was visibly disappointed that he could not continue after sustaining injuries in the crash-marred third stage. His Facebook post the next morning said, “Shattered that I'm not there today… Fracture is stable and looks like 5 weeks recovery time.”
Having had the unique opportunity to experience the race from the guest car, Commissaire’s car, Team MTN-Qhubeka team car, VIP car and from one of the cars in the 160-vehicle long promotional “caravan” that drives on the route two hours before the start of each stage, Newman has witnessed first hand the many facets that go into making an event of this stature a massive success for the fans and all involved.
While there is much South African support for Team MTN-Qhubeka, it is the Eritreans who have been the most vocal in bringing jubilation to each stage. “Team MTN-Qhubeka has introduced a new dimension in the way the fans react to the team,” continues Newman.
“The Eritrean supporters have been gathering around the team bus every day, singing and chanting and waving flags while the team prepares for the stage. They are extremely proud of Daniel (Teklehaimanot) and Merhawi (Kudus). This is the type of unique African experience that we’ve brought to the Tour. The media is buzzing around the supporters, capturing the moments.
“There is quite a lot of South African support too, and many Eritrean and SA flags can be seen along the route, which is good to see. The riders are great ambassadors for the sport and for Africa.”
Top-five finishes in stages four and five for Edwald Boassen Hagen, a 22nd place for Meintjes and 30th for Kudus in the tough, mountain-top third stage have been impressive results for the African team so early in the race.
“I admire the way that the team is riding – they are certainly not making up the numbers. They’ve also been racing on the challenging territory of cobbles, which is something that they are not used to, yet they still finish in the main bunches. There is just so much opportunity and potential, just watch them closely over the next few days!” said Newman, who is optimistic that the best is yet to come.
On behalf of Cycling SA Executive and Management Committees, all our members and the nation, we wish Team-MTN-Qhubeka all the very best for the forthcoming stages of the Tour de France.