MTN-Qhubeka: 2015 Report Card

Milestones and huge strides forward for risk-taking African team

WorldTour ranking (N/A)
Win count: 18 (up from 10)
Top riders: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Louis Meintjes, Daniel Teklehaimanot, Stephen Cummings, Kristian Sbaragli

It has been a year of firsts for MTN-Qhubeka, who have taken huge strides in their development. They set their stall out early with a busy transfer window last winter, signing riders such as Edvald Boasson Hagen, Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar and Natnael Berhane.

With a string of big-name sprinters on their roster, there was a sense of anticipation going into the season and expectations were high. It was a big risk, and there will be plenty of disappointments and frustrations, but the team can ultimately look back on a largely successful season that saw them challenge some of the WorldTour outfits.

Despite the attention surrounding the sprinting line-up, it was actually Stephen Cummings who delivered the team their first win with an impressive solo ride in the one-day Trofeo Andratx-Mirador d'Es Colomer. Aside from a surprise overall victory at the Tour de Langkawi for Youcef Reguigui, it would be the climbers of the team that propped up the early-season results as the sprinters stuttered in the Classics. There was some misfortune, admittedly, but the spring campaign that bore so much hope will be the team’s biggest disappointment of 2015.

There was some good news for the South African team in those first few months, however, when they secured a place at their debut Tour de France. It would be a first for the French Grand Tour, which had never played host to an African trade team (let us not forget the North African national teams of the 1950s). There were some promising results as they geared up for the historic event, with Boasson Hagen getting his first win of the season at the Tour des Fjords and a strong performance from Louis Meintjes at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The setbacks of March and April were soon forgotten when Daniel Teklehaimanot opened the Tour de France as the first rider off during the prologue. It would be the Eritrean that would deliver one of their most memorable moments of the race when he briefly put himself into the polka-dot jersey of the mountains classification. After giving them their first victory of the season, Cummings also handed them their debut Grand Tour stage win. Arguably their most impressive performance was in the team competition, where they eventually finished fifth despite losing Meintjes in the final week.

Their return to the Vuelta a Espana brought in another Grand Tour stage victory through Kristian Sbaragli, while Meintjes breached the top 10 in the overall classification. A clever ride from Boasson Hagen saw him seal the overall win at the Tour of Britain in September.

While MTN-Qhubeka will be predominantly happy with how things panned out in 2015, some of their risks did not pay off. They had high hopes for Goss, but it was soon apparent that he wasn’t going to live up to their expectations and ultimately only took part in 44 race days. He’ll be leaving the team, as will Gerald Ciolek, who ended the year without a single victory.

However, the major successes at the Tour de France will help to gloss over some of the failures this season and the team can look to 2016 with a lot of positivity.

What to expect for 2016

First and foremost, a new name and a new kit. The South African team will be known as Team Dimension Data from 2016, with the Qhubeka charity no longer forming part of the name. The American football referee-style kit is likely to be replaced by something greener to match with their new title sponsor.

News of teams' licences for next year has started to filter out and Dimension Data are yet to be named on either the WorldTour or Pro Continental lists. After such a big year, the expectation is that we’ll see them named among the WorldTour teams before long, and there's every possibility that it will be in 2016. 

The arrival of Mark Cavendish is also a big step for the team and should see them adding to the tally of 18 wins they claimed this season. It would be easy for the other riders to get lost in the hype around Cavendish and the biggest challenge will be to maintain the team’s core ideals.

Biggest signing

One name towers above all in the list of new signings and that is Mark Cavendish. Winning is no guarantee as it was in his younger years but he remains one of the fastest men on two wheels. Cavendish’s experience will also be key for the team as they look to develop some of their younger riders.

Biggest loss

The loss of Louis Meintjes to Lampre-Merida for next season is a bitter pill to swallow for the management at MTN. Not only is the young South African a hugely promising talent, but he also embodied the team’s raison d'être. He turned professional with the team in 2013 and has been one of their leading lights in that time. His absence will be keenly felt within the team next season.

One to watch for 2016

The development of all the new signings will be interesting to watch throughout the 2016 season but it is a rider that is already with the team that we should be keeping an eye on. Merhawi Kudus surprised many people when, at just 21 years of age, he made it all the way to Paris in this year’s Tour de France.

This season was a defining one for the youngster but 2016 is going to be even bigger. While Kudus has long been seen as a future Grand Tour contender, he has been able to hide from the limelight somewhat, with Meintjes taking up most of it. Now that Meintjes has left for pastures new, Kudus will be the one to take up his mantel. How will he cope with the pressure? Only time will tell.

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