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African Pro Continental squad aims for 2015 Tour de France
Africa’s first Professional Continental squad, MTN-Qhubeka has been granted an invitation to one of the opening races of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. MTN-Qhubeka’s Classics squad will hope to show themselves at the 200km semi-classic with the expectation that additional invitations will follow.
The 21-rider team roster includes the experienced Gerald Ciolek - who signed from Omega Pharma-Quickstep. The team is hopeful Ciolek’s addition to the Pro Continental squad will deliver greater influence when it comes time for race organisers to select the chosen teams.
"We are very happy to receive the invite to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from the organisers," said sports director Jens Zemke.
"This will be the first and most important race of the season so far for our Classics group. We're a little frustrated that we did not get any other race invites in February, especially when we have Gerald Ciolek who won a stage in the Tour of Algarve this year and Mallorca in the past. However, we understand it will take a bit time but we will find our place in the cycling world."
The 2013 MTN-Qhubeka team was recently unveiled just outside of Johannesburg and is part of an ongoing project and part of the World Bicycle Relief network, rewarding South African people with bicycles with plenty of carrying capacity.
While the squad has ambitions to ride the Tour de France by 2015, team principal Doug Ryder turned down an offer to ride next year’s Giro d’Italia citing a longer-term approach to the team’s goals.
"Our team is different to all other teams. Our biggest goal is to mobilise kids on bikes and develop our amazing sport in Africa, which is largely still untouched with regards to professional cycling. We will be competitive and we have huge potential for the future with our young team. Our average age is only 24 years. We have a lot of riders who aren't big names in the sport yet but we are ready to surprise. We also have Gerald Ciolek, one of the best sprinters in the world, who is motivated and ready to lead the team."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, won by Garmin-Sharp’s Sep Vanmarcke in 2012, will be held on 23 February next year. It is not yet known whether MTN-Qhubeka will ride Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - held the next day.