MTN-Qhubeka team principle Doug Ryder should have been basking in the joy of a goal accomplished as Daniel Teklehaimanot prepared himself for his first day in the Tour de France's polka-dot jersey. Instead, he found himself surrounded by journalists talking about Teklehaimanot's compatriot Natnael Berhane, who had been the target of racial abuse during the Tour of Austria.
It had been a great day for the team with Teklehaimanot talking the mountains classification at the Tour and Johan Van Zyl claiming his first professional victory at the Tour of Austria. However, during stage, Branislau Samoilau (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) reportedly called Berhane and "f**ing n***er."
"Racism and saying what was said, that's unacceptable. We have no tolerance for that at all," Ryder told the press. "Hopefully, it's an isolated thing. A guy was silly, he's said something but it's good that the team has taken a stance against it and he's realised his mistake."
According to Ryder, Berhane, who is currently fourth in the overall classification in Austria, requested that Samoilau not be thrown out of the race. The CCC rider has been fined a month's wages, which will be given directly to the Qhubeka charity that lends its name to the team and who raises money to give Africans bicycles.
"Natnael was incredibly upset at the time, because it's a terrible thing. They had a discussion, the team came and apologised, the rider came and apologised," explained Ryder. "Natnael has forgiven the guy. The UCI wanted to kick him out of the race, but Natnael said no it's ok."
Ryder did add, though, that his riders had been subjected to bullying in the peloton at other races with several being told that they belonged at the back of the bunch, but the team principle tried to insist that it wasn't just his team that had been picked on.
MTN-Qhubeka are the first African team to be registered at Pro Continental level and are currently making their Tour de France debut. The team is made up of a mixture of experienced European riders, and young, up and coming Africans. Teklehaimanot and fellow Eritrean Merhawi Kudus are making history as the first black Africans to participate in the Tour.
"The nice thing about our team is that we are multi-cultural and our riders learn from each other, they learn about different cultures from different countries. It makes our team stronger and that's a good thing. If other riders feel threatened about this African invasion, and the transformation in cycling then fine," said Ryder. "This is not a European sport it's for the world, and it's amazing that we are here and we can show the performance of the riders that are here."
The UCI and CCC Sprandi-Polkowice react
Cyclingnews contacted the UCI regarding the incident and they said, "The commissaires' Jury spoke to both riders and their teams. Everyone agreed that it was unacceptable and the rider apologized and offered to donate one month's salary to team MTN-Qhubeka's foundation. All parties were satisfied with the outcome."
CCC Sprandi Polkowice also issued a statement to the Telegraph newspaper, saying, "In the heat of the battle some words and been said by our rider, which was very unfortunate and unacceptable.
"We, as a team, do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and the rider will suffer the consequences."