A year older and more experienced, MTN Qhubeka pushing hard for Giro d’Italia invite
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Friday, November 29, 2013

A year older and more experienced, MTN Qhubeka pushing hard for Giro d’Italia invite

by Shane Stokes at 11:27 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia
“Going to the Giro would mean Africa's first participation in a Grand Tour. It's an iconic event, one we're not taking lightly”

MTN qhubekaLast January the team agreed with RCS Sport that riding the Giro was probably a little too early but, with a Milan San Remo win under its belt, several more victories to its credit and a full year of high-level racing in Europe, things are different this time round.

MTN Qhubeka has moved on from the team it was and now, more experienced and featuring several new riders, team principal Douglas Ryder is convinced that the African squad deserves a wildcard.

“A year ago we would have been delighted just to make an eight team shortlist for the Giro but I think we've proved in 2013 that we're passionate about striving to be one of the best teams in the world,” he told VeloNation today.

The season just finished was a successful one for the team, which had moved up to Pro Continental status and signed riders such as former Tour de France stage winner Gerald Ciolek plus past Giro d’Italia TT victor Ignatas Konovalovas.

Ciolek quickly got up to speed, replaying its investment in him by taking a stage in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, third and fourth on stages of Tirreno Adriatico and then stunning the peloton with a fine victory ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) in Milan Sanremo.

That win, in one of RCS Sports’ own events, showed that the team had arrived at a new level. Ciolek went on to win stages in the Bayern Rundfahrt, Tour of Austria and Tour of Britain, while Sergio Pardilla grabbed a win on stage four of the Tour of Portugal and Kristian Sbaragli was successful on day one of the Tour of Korea.

Mix in national championship titles by Jay Thomson, Tsgabu Gebremariam Grmay and Konovalovas plus a run of late season wins in the Tour of Rwanda [by Thomson, Johan Van Zyl and Louis Meintjes] and the Sharjah Cycling Tour [by Youcef Reguigui] and its clear why morale is much higher heading into 2014.

Meintjes’ silver medal in the world under 23 championship is also encouraging, as it suggests the team has one of the most promising young riders in its ranks.

Pushing for inclusion:

Earlier this week RCS Sport released the names of eight teams which had applied for invites to the Giro d’Italia. They were MTN Qhubeka, Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, Caja Rural-RGA, Team Colombia, IAM Cycling, Team NetApp-Endura, Team Novo Nordisk and UnitedHealtcare Pro Cycling teams.

The way the information was circulated gave the impression that they were the only teams in the running at this point, but RCS Sport later clarified to VeloNation that the closing date for applications isn’t until December 18th. This made it possible that more could apply.

Still, whether there are eight teams going for the three vacant places or there are a couple more squads in the mix, Ryder feels his team can make a strong case for inclusion.

His reasoning is based more than on quality of riders alone. He says the team also has the chance to make history, and to promote the work of an important charity which gives bicycles to people who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

“Going to the Giro would mean Africa's very first participation in a Grand Tour,” explained Ryder. “It's an iconic event and one we're not taking lightly. We're working around the clock to not only make an impact on the sport but also in communities in Africa that Qhubeka actively are involved in.

“Our participation in the race will be to absolutely send the best team to be competitive and win but also to make an impact on the environment. We've been in communication with RCS and when we submit our final documentation of what we'll bring to the race, we hope they'll be excited by it.”

RCS Sport representatives recently travelled to Africa and were involved in the presentation of 120 Qhubeka bikes to schoolchildren there. A total of 58 of those machines were paid for by RCS Sport itself, with the company raising the money at a gala dinner held before the Milan-Sanremo Classic in March.

It has consequently seen firsthand the work that Qhubeka does, and will factor this in when making its decision in January.

Ryder points out that several important new signings have been made and the team will be stronger in 2014. “We finalized our 25-rider roster for the 2014 season and we've made additions to the team with a Grand Tour in mind. Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African rider of colour to complete a Grand Tour last year. We feel he hasn't even begun to reach his potential. We're exciting about his future.

“Gerald Ciolek is one of the best riders in the world and has the ability to win stages so going there with a goal of winning one wouldn't be unrealistic. And we’re also looking forward to seeing how John-Lee Augustyn and Linus Gerdemann respond to their return in the peloton.”

Although the more experienced riders are the ones with the best chance of doing something big in the Italian event, he also keeps in mind the team’s goal of bringing on those from the African continent who don’t yet have the same history in the sport.

As much as the team wants to nab success in 2014, it also wants to work towards the future and to taking other successes further down the line.

“We've got athletes on the teams who have ridden all three Grand Tours and have won stages in them,” he said. “But what is exciting for me is to see some of our younger African riders putting their hands up and saying, ‘I want to be on the start line of a Grand Tour. I am going to give it my everything to get there.’”


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