Team MTN-Qhubeka has a firm goal for the future: to be the first African team in the Tour de France. The South African team has taken the first step, having received its Professional Continental licence this week. Sport Director Jens Zemke says that while the Tour is a long-term goal, “we want to achieve it.”
The team will hold first training camp starting this week in South Africa, with the team presentation scheduled for Monday.
In a video interview on Radsport-News.com, Zemke said that “It will take a few years but the goal is to the first African team to take part in the Tour de France. That's a long-term goal,but we want to reach it.”
The team's stated date for that participation is 2014, Zemke said that he found that "a bit unrealistic. I think we would really have to strengthen our personnel and our young riders would have to perform above all expectations.”
Shorter term, the goal is “to do well in the Classics,” one of the reasons they signed German Gerald Ciolek. For 2013, “we wanted to start with Qatar and Oman, but it looks like that won't work out, so I am looking for alternatives like Ruta del Sol or Algarve. Then the Classics, like (Omloop Het) Nieuwsblad and maybe Tour of Flanders.”
The team itself has been around for a long time, but 2012 “as the first year the team came to Europe and raced a full schedule,” Zemke said. Much to his surprise, the team was able to establish itself on the European scene quickly. “After only two weeks we had our first win, and that was for me a sensation, I must say.”
That win, like most of the team's wins this year, went to Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, who is leaving the team in the coming year for Argos-Shimano.
Zemke served as sport director at Equipe Nürnberger, Cervelo Test Team, and HTC-Highroad Women's team. This year he split his time between Specialized LuluLemon and MTN Qhubeka, and is looking forward to accompanying the team on its move upwards.
“The step from Continental to Professional Continental is enormous, really huge. Even just the conditions you have to fulfil, like insurance, the bio-passport, the vehicles, the personnel, all of that....”
There is also something that an African team has to deal with which a European team doesn't, namely the question of visas. "Our riders must return home every three months, and they must actually spend three months in Africa before coming back (to Europe) for another three months. That is of course a huge problem. But for next year we hope to solve it.”