The Africans: Tsgabu Grmay, Meron Russom, Adrien Niyonshuti, Jani Tewelde and Ferekalsi Debesay
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Last year's runner-up Russom ready to battle WorldTour riders
Africa's first Professional Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung will make its 2013 debut at next week's La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. One of the team's Eritreans, Meron Russom, took second overall in the race in Gabon in 2012 to Europcar's Anthony Charteau by only 8 seconds.
This year, Russom and his teammates will face an even higher quality peloton, with two WorldTour teams, Lotto Belison and Lampre-Merida, and two other Pro Continental squads: Europcar and Cofidis plus the pro team Groupement Sportif Petrolier Algerie and nine African national teams.
"This year's race is a little earlier than last year so my condition isn't exactly the same but I am still happy with my preparation," Russom said. "My aim is to win a stage or finish on the podium. I am also happy to help the team if we find one of my teammates is stronger than me."
"The standard of racing is sure to be high," said MTN-Qhubeka Sports Director, Kevin Campbell. "UCI points are at a premium this year and even if some of the top teams send their less well known riders, they will still be motivated to perform.
"Meron and Jani both raced really well last year and I expect them to do well again. Tsgabu is an unknown factor to the other teams so I know he will also perform really well. Jacques, Louis and Songezo are all able to offer excellent support and obtain some excellent results themselves."
The team will make its European debut after the South African national championships. It was recently given invitations to the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo.
Team MTN-Qhubeka for La Tropicale Amissa Bongo: Tsgabu Grmay , Jacques Janse Van Rensburg, Songezo Jim, Louis Meintjes, Meron Russom, Jani Tewelde