Africa – A Door Opens

An African-registered Team will Compete in the 2015 Tour de France.

In what looks set to be a turning point for cycling in Africa, an African-registered team will be featured for the first time ever in the 2015 Tour de France: South Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka received one of five wild cards on January 14th from race organisers.

To have a whole team in the Tour de France … for Africa and South Africa, it’s going to be huge,” MTN General Manager Brian Smith told VeloNews.

“The Tour team will be selected on merit but I’d hope to see the African riders there,” says Smith, who was appointed in 2014 to lead the team’s attempt to earn a place in the Tour.

MTN-Qhubeka, which made its Grand Tour debut in the Vuelta in 2014, was one of five teams to receive Tour de France wild cards and now join the 17 UCI World Tour teams that have already qualified for the world’s most prestigious cycling race that begins in July.

Africans on the nine-man MTN-Qhubeka team include South African Louis Meintjes and Eritreans Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane, the two-time African champion. There are also riders on the roster from Rwanda and Algeria. Others on the squad include Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, Australian Matthew Goss and American Tyler Farrar.

Natnael Berhane from Eritrea
Natnael Berhane from Eritrea

Team principal Doug Ryder told BBC World Service Sport: It’s been almost 10 years of hard work and getting people to believe in this project and to believe in African cycling and the potential.

“African sport has always been good, especially endurance running, and our theory was always if we can get more kids on bicycles in Africa, can you imagine how we can transform cycling because of the endurance running talent that has just been so successful over the last 30 years.

“For us to go to the Tour de France as the first African-registered team, that door will literally never close now.”

The team had previously stated its desire to mark Nelson Mandela Day on July 18th with a specially-designed kit if it was invited to take part. A special number 67 jersey will be produced signifying Mandela’s 67 years of service to South Africa, encompassing his years fighting apartheid, 27 years in jail, and five years as the country’s president between 1994 and 1999.

MTN-Qhubeka’s main sponsor is the South African telecoms company MTN, and the team is also backed by Samsung, Their other title backer, Qhubeka, is not a sponsor in the conventional sense but a volunteer organisation whose name means “progress”. It distributes bicycles to rural African children.