Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung got its first Professional Continental season off to an successful start with Gerald Ciolek's win in Milan-San Remo, but sport director Jens Zemke knows that isn't enough for the year. With wildcard invitations to the Vattenfall Cyclassics and Il Lombardia, the team has two more WorldTour races coming up this year. The African-based team isn't stopping there though, as it hopes to become the first African team ever to ride a Grand Tour in 2014.
Amongst the team's coming races are the Volta a Portugal (August 7-18), followed by the Cyclassics on August 25. Ciolek was second there last year “and that's a really big goal for him,” Zemke said.
“We also have Giro di Lombardia and we will aim to do as well as possible there, but if we can get a wildcard for Paris-Tours then we’d have another big race where our expectations can be high. The World Championships close to our service course and headquarters in Italy is also a goal, especially after our result last year in the team time trial. We should try to improve; a top 15 would be amazing.”
Zemke and the team are already looking to the next season with big plans: “in a year the team hopes it will make history as the first ever African team in a Grand Tour.”
They have their eye on either the Giro d'Italia or the Vuelta a Espana next year, “and then the Tour de France in 2015. At the moment we are thinking about the riders and planning next season and we are definitely building and everything is in planning. It’s not enough to clap our hands and say we have an invitation to a Grand Tour, we have to be ready for it in terms of logistics, riders and planning races building up to it in advance.”
Looking back at the first part of the season, Zemke said that he was more than satisfied. One of the goals for the year was ten UCI victories, and they already have 11. “If you told me we would win a Monument I would not have believed it, and that was our big bang and how we started the year. [The victory] was a big help to promote our cause with Qhubeka and to promote our jersey.
“I think everyone in cycling knows something about MTN now. The nice thing is that in every country we race, we get a lot of focus. The media is always interested to report on us because we’re different to other teams.”