Africa’s first professional team, MTN-Qhubeka adjusted quickly at its new level this year with 15 wins, including a big one in Milan-San Remo. It closes its season now in Rwanda but already considers its debut a success.
“We had our ups and downs, guys with broken bones but we’ve come out of this season ranked well,” General Manager Douglas Ryder told Cycling Weekly. “We won a WorldTour race, the Milan-San Remo with Gerald Ciolek but others won too and contributed to those 13 wins.”
South Africans Jay Thomson and Louis Meintjes added two more wins in the Tour of Rwanda to make it 15 for the yellow-and-black team. Meintjes now leads the Tour of Rwanda, where the team is helping Adrien Niyonshuti restart after suffering from deep vein thrombosis.
The team’s Europeans took the biggest wins. German Ciolek won San Remo and stages in the Tour of Britain, the Tour of Austria, Bayern-Rundfahrt and the Three Days of West Flanders. Spaniard Sergio Pardilla picked up a stage win in Portugal. Ryder’s hope is that their success and experience rubs off on his Africans, which make up 71 per cent of the 2013 team.
“And we strengthened our team for 2014,” Ryder added. “The goal stays the same, taking Africans to the top of cycling.”
The same 21 men return for 2014 but with four new additions: German Linus Gerdemann, South African John-Lee Augustyn, and Eritreans Merhawi Kudus and Daniel Teklehaymanot.
“A year ago I had to explain to everyone why I decided on team MTN-Qhubeka, now I don’t have to do that. People have seen that the team is very professional with great coaching, equipment and some of the best professionals in cycling,” Ciolek told Spain’s Bici Ciclismo.
“Soon we won’t even need to explain who our African riders are. We have many great talents in this squad. They have taught me to be humble, to work hard and appreciate what I have already achieved in life so far. Not only from a sporting point of view but at a personal level.”
Ciolek spent years with Highroad, Milram and Omega Pharma. His signature last winter helped Ryder make the push into the pro ranks for this season.
Ethiopian Tsgabu Grmay caught attention this season. He won a stage and placed second overall in the Tour of Taiwan and in the Tour of Utah young classification, placed third. Kudus promises to do the same. This year as an amateur, he placed second in Spain’s Vuelta Ciclista a León stage race.
Ryder hopes that with the team’s uniqueness, results and reinforcements that MTN will make the next jump. He wants to see MTN debut in a Grand Tour next year, which would be a first for an African team.