MTN-Qhubeka, Africa’s first Pro Continental team, has received wildcard invitations to both Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo in March. The news, which follows the team's earlier invitation to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, comes as a vote of confidence to the squad from race organisers RCS Sport, who also announced the four Giro d’Italia wildcards on Tuesday.
Douglas Ryder’s squad had already intimated that it would wait another year before seeking a Giro berth, but the team principal was pleased that his team has guaranteed itself participation in two WorldTour races so early in the season.
“We'd like to thank RCS for this opportunity," Ryder said. "It was a major goal for us this year to get into those two races as they are two of the most prestigious ones on the calender. Tirreno-Adriatico will offer some tough stage racing while Milan-San Remo at almost 300km long will offer our riders a great learning opportunity in tough one-day classic conditions."
While MTN-Qhubeka’s primary goal is the development of African talent, the squad has also signed a number of European riders with significant WorldTour experience, including the Germans Gerald Ciolek and Martin Reimer. Ciolek, who arrived from Omega Pharma-QuickStep during the off-season, has had Milan-San Remo earmarked all winter.
“I've been building the early part of my season around these two races. To have them confirmed for our team is great,” Ciolek said. “People may have wondered why I signed for a Pro Continental team but I think everyone is starting to believe why this project is so special. I am looking forward to heading to Italy for these races."
Although South African-registered and with a predominantly African roster, MTN-Qhubeka is not without links to Italy – the team’s African riders have their European base in Lucca.
The other wildcards at Tirreno-Adriatico will be Katusha, NetApp-Endura and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, while at Milan-San Remo, MTN-Qhubeka is one of six wildcards, alongside Androni Giocattoli, Katusha, IAM Cycling, Bardiani, Vini Fantini and Team Europcar.