This weekend marks the start of a historic moment for Africa's first Professional Continental team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung. The Italian one-day race Trofeo Laigueglia will be the first official outing in Europe for the squad that has big ambitions for the coming season.
Team management obviously felt the best way to prepare for the 196.5km race was to spend time familiarising the weekend's eight-man squad with the harsh European climate around the streets of Lucca, Italy. It was also an opportunity for the riders to strengthen their relationships before embarking on a big spring campaign.
"This race is a nice way to start our season with it starting at the sea and it usually has a great atmosphere and a lot of big names on the start list," director sportif Jens Zemke on the team site. "The pressure is low for us, but the motivation is high. For half of the team it will be the first time they race with big teams and some famous stars, which were their idols growing up. Some teams, the media and the crowd will be surprised when they see how professional our setup is and I think we'll bring some new colour to the cycling peloton."
"Training has been great so far," said team captain Gerald Ciolek. "We started with riding many kilometers in South Africa in December then I had 3 good weeks of training in Mallorca just after New Year and right now we're at the training camp with the team in Lucca, Italy.
"There's just 8 riders here in Lucca, and we're the 8 who will be sticking together for the next races. What I've seen so far from the level of the guys makes me excited for the future. I think we can head into the next few races with confidence."