The MTN-Qhubeka team has celebrated becoming the first African-registered team to secure an invitation to the Vuelta a Espana, by setting the goal of having at least 50% of its riders for its Grand Tour debut from Africa.
MTN-Qhubeka was overlooked for a place at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France but secured a place for cycling's third Grand Tour. Also lining up alongside the 18 WorldTour teams in Spain will be IAM Cycling, Cofidis and Caja Rural.
The Barloworld team was sponsored by a South African company and included South African riders but was registered in Italy and then Britain. The MTN-Qhubeka has far closer links to South Africa and prides itself on developing and supporting African athletes. It also supports Qhubeka, a non-profit organisation that provides children with bikes so they can ride to school.
“It was always our dream and ambition to take an African registered team to the highest level in World Cycling, be that the biggest one day races, the Monuments, and the Grand Tours. To be accepted into the Vuelta is the beginning of the realisation of that dream," team manager Doug Ryder said in a statement after the Vuelta a Espana confirmed the four wild card invitations.
"Our dream goes way beyond riding and performing well in these races, which is the enabler to bring thousands of people in communities in South Africa onto Qhubeka Buffalo bicycles to further their lives."
"For the Vuelta the goal is to have at least 50% of our start list representing riders from the African continent. Riders from the African continent make up 70% of our team's total roster. This is a significant contribution we are making in developing talent and providing world class infrastructure for African riders to compete in the World Tour."
The team will focus on stage victories with sprinter Gerald Ciolek and hope that Sergio Pardilla and Linus Gerdemann can impress in the overall classification. Possible names for the other places in the team include Adrien Niyonshuti of Rwanda, Daniel Teklehaimanot of Eritrea, Jay Thompson, Jacques Janse van Rensburg. Louis Meintjes, Songezo Jim and John-Lee Augustyn of South Africa.
"The team will focus on stage wins as well as the points jersey with Gerald Ciolek, who is a strong rider who can climb and sprint and the stages might suit his style of riding so this will be a focus," Ryder said.
"Sergio Pardilla and Linus Gerdemann will aim for a top GC result and they will be ably supported by our African riders who will animate the race in the 13 mountain stages."
Linus Gerdemann is the most experienced Grand Tour rider at MTN-Qhubeka. He rode the 2012 Vuelta, finished 22nd in the 2009 Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for a day at the 2007 Tour after winning Stage 7 to Le Grand-Bornand.
"As a team we were hoping for the Giro d’Italia, but now the Vuelta becomes my big goal and the team's big goal for the season," he said.
"To be a part of the first African team to ride a Grand Tour in cycling is an honour, the African riders are incredibly talented and great climbers so the Vuelta will suit their riding style and I know by then they will be super-motivated to be a part of the team and make cycling history."