The Dimension Data team, hitherto known as MTN-Qhubeka, have been granted a WorldTour licence for 2016 by the UCI, meaning that the WorldTour will once again return to its full quota of 18 teams. The team revealed the 'historic' news on Wednesday from their training camp in Cape Town, South Africa.
The South African team originally applied for Professional Continental status but the signing of Mark Cavendish and new sponsorship deals with Dimension Data, Deloitte, and Sapinda, coupled with the extra slot available in cycling’s top tier, made the step up a real possibility. The team was in discussion with the UCI, who welcomed the idea of someone filling the quota, and were duly audited by the Licence Commission in order to assess the financial, structural, and logistical viability of the move.
"This is incredible, I am so happy for this team, our partners and all the staff and riders that have worked so hard over the years to keep building this team to push beyond the boundaries and believe that anything is possible," said team principal Doug Ryder.
"To get this news on our training camp in Cape Town as we are bonding with our new team for the future is simply the best motivation to move forward into 2016."
The team also announced it would create and register a Continental team in 2016. Based out of the team's training centre in Lucca, Italy, it will allow young African riders to race in Europe and gain experience before perhaps moving up to the WorldTour team.
The step up from Pro Continental level represents the latest in a series of huge strides forward for the African team, who rode a debut Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana in 2014 before becoming the first African trade team to ride the Tour de France this year. With an engaging story and charitable ethos, they have ridden a wave of popularity and capitalised upon that by securing the new sponsors and by making a marquee signing in the shape of Mark Cavendish.
Being part of the WorldTour will mean the team will automatically ride all three Grand Tours, along with the other races on the WorldTour calendar. The team had plenty of experience at the top level this year, riding two of the three Grand Tours - the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana - along with four of the five Monuments.
The team signed Cavendish's former teammates Mark Renshaw and Bernard Eisel to support the Manxman, who is set to be the talisman in 2016, along with acquiring the services of Cameron Meyer, Nathan Haas, Omar Fraile, and Kanstantsin Siutsou. Roger Hammond and Rolf Aldag have also joined the technical staff and will work with Ryder and general manager Brian Smith.
The team described the news, which will see an African team in the sport's top tier for the first time, as historic.
"Africa will have a team represented at the highest level of the sport. While we were always hopeful of making it into the World Tour, the excitement of today’s announcement has been met with great joy among our team, partners and fans across the world," the team said in a press release, after opening a bottle of champagne in celebration.
"The realisation of this dream has only been made possible by years of hard work, strategic partnerships, incredible riders producing exceptional performances and support staff. We are delighted to rewrite the history books and place African cycling at the highest level in World Cycling. To our partners Dimension Data, Deloitte, Cervélo, Sapinda, Rotor and all the others that have believed in the future of this team thank you for your support in making this a reality. As a World Tour team we believe we will be able to mobilise more people on bicycles through the Qhubeka Charity and our #BicyclesChangeLives campaign."
Cyclingnews' Sadhbh O'Shea is out in Cape Town currently, bringing exclusive interviews and photo galleries from the team's training camp. You can read her interview with Mark Cavendish or flick through a gallery of the team's hike up Table Mountain.
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