After making a dream Tour de France debut earlier this year, MTN-Qhubeka (to be known as Dimension Data next season) are eyeing up even bigger goals for 2016. The African team claimed their first Grand Tour stage in July but, with the addition of riders such as Mark Cavendish, they are looking to add to that tally and even take home their first overall classification and a jersey to boot.
"All the possibilities are there and we'll try to win more stages because we don't have a GC rider. At the moment, I think that we'll have the same strategy as we did this year, to race aggressively and to be visible and to go for a jersey," team MTN-Qhubeka boss Doug Ryder told Cyclingnews in Paris ahead of the presentation of the 2016 Tour de France route.
"To have a rider stand on the Champs Elysees at the end in front of the whole world with our brand, after hard three weeks of racing and lots of commitment and sacrifice, I don't think there would be a dry eye across the whole African continent and to the team that would be significant. Our progression would be so unbelievable, that would be amazing. It's an objective for sure."
With Cavendish on-board, a shot at the Tour's green jersey would be a real possibility in 2016. "Wouldn't that be nice with Dimension Data and the green. It would be fantastic, it would be unbelievable," Ryder said, he's not just relying on the Manxman to deliver the goods. "Potentially with Merhawi (Kudus) we could go for the young rider's jersey, that's a possibility."
The bigger picture
MTN-Qhubeka has been on a swift upwards trajectory since gaining their Pro Continental licence in 2013. This year saw some big changes in the set up with the signing of a number of experienced non-African riders coming in, such as Edvald Boasson Hagen, while Cavendish has joined the team for 2016. The decision was met with some criticism as some believed they have turned their focus away from the original goal of furthering African cycling.
Ryder denies this and says that the impact of having Cavendish win a Tour jersey is just as important as getting someone such as Kudus onto the podium, while their dream remains the same as it's always been. "For me they're both as equally as important as each other because it's all about the visibility and the potential and the commitment that every rider has made," said Ryder. "For us it would be exactly the same because the team moves forward and that generates massive exposure and more revenue and interest in African cycling. You don't want to have happen as what happened to Colombia Coldeportes (who were forced to disband due to lack of funding).
"It's our dream that an African rider will stand on the podium, either wearing a jersey or because they're a Grand Tour podium rider, we believe that will happen in the next three to five years."
WorldTour and track ambitions
After such a big season in 2015, the team are not restricting their major ambitions to the Tour de France. Ryder told Cyclingnews at the Tour de France in July that the team hoped to gain promotion into the WorldTour. Late confirmation of sponsors meant that they missed the initial deadline to apply for a licence but the door is still open. With only 17 teams submitting applications, there is still one spot remaining and, if the UCI find their documents satisfactory, they could be the ones to take it.
The team may find out if they are successful as early and next week and Ryder believes they are more than ready to make the jump. "Last year there was a perception that a Pro Continental team couldn't ride two Grand Tours and be successful and we rode two Grand Tours and were successful. In the Tour de France we had a great race and at the Tour of Spain we won a stage and then went 10th. It's pretty good," he said.
If they were to join the WorldTour then they would have the freedom to boost their roster to 30 riders but Ryder believes that the investment would be spent elsewhere. "We'd invest more into a feeder team. We'd rather, instead of putting another rider into the WorldTour we'd put many more riders into a feeder team and step them up a level so that the gap doesn't go out further."
The Olympic Games and the track are another consideration that the team will have to make when it comes to Cavendish. The Manxman has made no secret of his desire to take home an Olympic medal and, with the road race route as it is, he knows that the track is his best shot. Cavendish's outgoing team manager Patrick Lefevere was never too keen on the idea but Ryder says that he'll give the 30-year-old his full support.
"We have to look at it, we have to look at the dates. I think the track is great for him, it's a big objective for him so it becomes our objective because we support the riders. We'll be super happy for him and we'll give him 100 per cent focus and support," Ryder told Cyclingnews. "It's fine, because we have some other riders that can step up and step in."