At its team presentation in Johannesburg, South Africa, the MTN-Qhubeka squad's rallying cry was "get Africa to the Giro". However, when RCS Sport announced the wildcards for its races today, MTN-Qhubeka was absent from the Giro d'Italia roster - passed over for three Italian teams: Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani CSF and Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo, and Colombia.
The African team was invited to Milan-Sanremo, of course, as defending champion Gerald Ciolek remains with the team, and to Tirreno-Adriatico, but not to Il Lombardia.
The team issued a statement saying, "We'd like to thank everyone for supporting us in our efforts to get there. Our supporters have been amazing", and "congratulations to Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani CSF, Colombia and Yellow Fluo on their Giro wildcards."
MTN-Qhubeka had a patron in former RCS Sport manager Michele Acquarone, who was impressed by the Qhubeka organisation's efforts to improve the lives of African children with bicycles. But Acquarone was removed from his position in the wake of a financial scandal in the parent organisation, and the new administration stated in the teams announcement that its choices were "dictated by the opportunity ... to support the Italian cycling movement", putting Acquarone's vision of internationalizing the race on the back burner.
With an unprecedented number of African riders - 10 South Africans, five Eritreans, one each from Ethiopia, Rwanda and Algeria, in addition to its seven Europeans, the team is the first majority-African team to seek a Grand Tour berth, and it is not giving up on that ambition.
"Our aim is still to get to a Grand Tour this year and in the meantime we've got a fantastic WorldTour calendar, including Tirreno-driatico and Milan - San Remo and some other major ones we'll announce in the future," the team said.
Only a second-year professional continental team, MTN-Qhubeka had increased its Grand Tour power and experience this season with the addition of German Linus Gerdemann, who wore the Tour de France's maillot jaune in 2007 after winning the stage to Le Grand-Bornand in his Tour debut. He has raced seven Grand Tours, his highest finish was 16th at the 2010 Giro d'Italia.
The team also brought John-Lee Augustyn back after more than a year of rehabilitation from a hip injury. The South African has two Grand Tours under his belt, one Giro and one Tour de France.
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