It was just over five months ago that Team MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung heard the news that they had received a wildcard invitation into the 102nd edition of Le Tour de France, which kicks off in Utrecht, The Netherlands, on Saturday 4 July 2015. It was a momentous occasion for South African and African cycling and a chance to etch their name in the history books by being the first African team to participate in Le Tour.
Describing that moment in January, Team Principal Douglas Ryder commented how he had always wondered how he would feel to hear the news. “It is simply indescribable. We have worked so hard; so many people have worked so hard. It’s really incredible.”
Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung is a showcase platform for African riders in many respects, and to be recognised by the UCI and Le Tour de France organisers ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) as a team capable of competing at this top level provides incredible inspiration and encouragement to riders from all over the continent. The dream of being able to cycle one of the world’s fiercest and longest standing races is a reality and it has come to pass.
“There is huge excitement in the team and the riders are incredibly happy,” said Ryder. “The performance at the Criterium du Dauphine showed that we are at the right level to compete with the best of the world. Right from the moment when we heard that we had received the wildcard invitation, the team visibly kicked up a gear and lifted their game.”
Coming off the most recent event with great success at the ’Dauphine and the team’s first ever World Tour jersey, the team is exceptionally motivated. “A certain occurrence changes the vibe and emotion of the riders. It is a belief that they can and will compete at this level and their minds changed into another gear. It has been fantastic to see.
“We had five riders in the top 10 and two podiums in 8 days, and we held onto the climber’s jersey for the whole Criterium du Dauphine… If you had told me that before the race, I would’ve said ‘No, that will not happen, that is a pipe dream’. It is truly amazing,” said Ryder.
Prior to the ’Dauphine, four of the team riders were living at altitude in Col de Galibier in France, taking part in a 10-day camp at altitude. The team has since been working on perfecting certain elements of the race to sharpen their skills, with special focus on the Team Time Trial.
“We’ve broken down the race per day and per stage. There will be achievements for various individuals and our focus will be on stage wins. The plan for the first eight days is for the team to be captained and led by Tyler Farrar in support of Edwald Boasson Hagen and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg in the first part of the ’Tour. Steve Cummings will concentrate on the Prologue initially and look at stage opportunities in rolling terrain. Then Serge Pauwels will captain the second part of the ’Tour – the mountain stages – in support of Louis Meintjes, Merhawi Kudus, Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Daniel Teklehaimanot.”
After a small breather at their headquarters in Lucca, Italy, the team will meet Ryder at Le Tour de France start venue of Utrecht on Monday.
Cycling SA President, William Newman, said: “We congratulate Doug for the vision that he had and for realising this vision so much sooner than anticipated. What this invitation to the Tour de France has done is show all our local riders that nothing is impossible, and greatness can be achieved with drive and determination. There is a great sense of inspiration and motivation in the lead up to this historic moment in world cycling, and we are very proud of the team. We will be routing for them every step of the way until Paris.”
On behalf of the SA public and on behalf of Cycling SA, we wish the Pride of Africa every success in the 2015 Tour de France and that this entry would be just the beginning of a permanent place in the race.
* The 102nd edition of Le Tour de France starts from Saturday 4 July until Sunday 26 July 2015 and is made up of 21 stages covering a total distance of 3360km. The stages will be made up of nine flat stages, three hill stages, seven mountain stages with five high altitude finishes, one individual time trial stage, one team time trial stage and two rest days.