It has been a big week for MTN-Qhubeka (soon to be Dimension Data), with the announcement that Mark Cavendish had signed for them and that they had secured Dimension Data and Deloitte as sponsors. In fact, it has been a big year for the team but they’re hoping to go bigger and better in 2016 by stepping up to the WorldTour.
The team indicated to Cyclingnews at the Tour de France that they would be keen to apply for the WorldTour. The initial date to apply for WorldTour licences passed on August 1 but the team did not send off their application, as their finances were not in place. However, with two major sponsors on-board, they can finally look to moving into the top level of cycling. “We’d love to take that step next year. We have let the UCI know that we have an interest. At the end of the day it’s up to them and the licencing commission,” MTN-Qhubeka team principal Doug Ryder told Cyclingnews.
The UCI have history of allowing teams to make a late application for a WorldTour licence. For 2014, they did it with Europcar and this season they took IAM Cycling on late. With Europcar suffering a budget shortfall ahead of the 2015 season, and the merger of Cannondale and Garmin, this year saw only 17 teams receive WorldTour licences. Ryder hopes and believes that cycling’s governing body will be keen to fill that spot.
The MTN-Qhubeka team has made a huge step forward this season, competing in two Grand Tours – including their first Tour de France – and all five of the monuments. “We are the highest ranked Pro Continental team and we know that there is a massive interest for the UCI to fill that 18th spot in the WorldTour because that’s how they’ve made their business on trying to make that happen,” said Ryder.
“Of course it would mean some investment in our logistical side but we are prepared for that and to look at that. We’ve done a lot of that already this year, we have a double infrastructure. We aim to give our riders both our programmes the same experience and the same support.”
The team have until October 1 to send off their paperwork and, after that, they have until October 20 to confirm riders who have enough ranking points to qualify. It won’t be until the first week of November that they would actually find out if their application is successful.
Cyclingnews contacted the UCI with regards to this, but they declined to discuss any specific teams while the licencing process was going on.
Moving up to the WorldTour would open up more space on the team, allowing them to sign up to 30 riders. While they have secured the services of five new riders, and extended deals with several others, there are others expected to leave. Louis Meintjes has signed a two-year deal with Lampre-Merida and the likes of Matt Goss, Gerald Ciolek and Andreas Stauff are believed to be departing from the team, which means they will need to boost their ranks.
It’s likely that these additional riders would come from their feeder team, which they are hoping to secure a continental licence for in 2016, but Ryder doesn’t discount the possibility of going outside the African continent for more riders. With the increased demand on the team, he’s aware that it’s next to impossible only sign Africans.
“We’re bringing riders that can function in different roles and if you’re looking to set up a WorldTour team then you need to have people who are going to fulfil certain roles,” he explained.
“Having a rider like Cavendish wanting to ride for our team, for the Qhubeka charity and the interest in our team and the mentorship that he could provide, it’s amazing. This is all around the further development of the riders in Africa. We don’t want to lose our best talent. We were really sad to lose Louis Meintjes because we built this team for guys like that.”
The team has received flak from some on social media for disregarding their African roots when signing the likes of Cavendish to the team but Ryder defended his decisions and was adamant that they are still focussed on Africa.
“For me it’s a bit frustrating because we’re trying to make an impact with what little we have and it’s not always seen by most people,” said Ryder. “Instead of having a 5,000 bikes for Qhubeka why not have a 50,000 bikes for Qhuebka? Imagine giving those to the community and to children so they can live their dreams and start making a meaningful impact at grassroots level of getting Africans on bicycles. That’s what people are missing. When I read some of the articles and the things that people are saying, ‘oh it’s no longer African’. It absolutely is.
“I think it’s amazing what we do and when you look at the riders that want to come on board it’s not by luck. Mark Cavendish had to want to come to this team. To have a guy like that wanting to join our team is amazing.”