MTN-Qhubeka willing to join WorldTour in 2015

The final deadline for WorldTour application passed more than a week ago and it looks like the UCI may be short one team at the top. With the Garmin and Cannondale teams merging next season, there may be only 17 teams remaining at WorldTour level.

There was speculation that the purported Fernando Alonso project may have been able to fill the hole left by the merger, but UCI president Brian Cookson has confirmed that the Spaniard and his associates hadn’t applied for a ProTour licence and the position remains vacant. When Cookson spoke to Cyclingnews ahead of Il Lombardia last Sunday, he seemed assured that there would be 18 teams with top-tier licences in 2015. If that is the case, where will this new team come from?

At the end of 2013 - when there were 19 teams in the WorldTour - Europcar was able to fill the void when Vacansoleil and Euskaltel folded. None of the teams that Cyclingnews spoke to had applied for WorldTour status, but African ProContinental team MTN-Qhubeka says that it would be willing to make the jump. The team made its Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España in August, and harbours ambitions of making it into the Tour de France in 2015.

“If they were to come to us then we would certainly consider it. To have an African team guaranteed in all of the biggest races would be great. That is our long-term goal and it would be a big opportunity for us,” MTN-Qhubeka boss Doug Ryder told Cyclingnews. “The bank guarantees are different at WorldTour level and we only have 22 riders, so we would be very light for riding three Grand Tours in a year, but we would talk to our sponsors MTN and Samsung and we could work something out.”

Under the current WorldTour regulations, teams can have up to 30 riders on their roster. Interim team manager Brian Smith has been very busy this winter, adding a number of big names to their roster including Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar, Matt Goss and Natnael Berhane. However, despite bolstering the team, Ryder says that contact with the governing body has not gone past the usual formalities of licence application.

“We had contact from Ernst and Young (the UCI’s auditors) a few days ago to tell us that our documentation was in order and that things were moving on,” he explained. “I’ve been checking almost every day to see the list of registered teams, which was supposed to be out on the 6th, but nothing has been published yet. Which is interesting.

“The UCI haven’t come to us and asked us about a WorldTour licence, but then they didn’t do that before when Europcar went up. I don’t know what the process is in this situation, do we have to apply to them? I think that the ball is in their court really.”

Cyclingnews also contacted IAM Cycling, who competed at both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España this season. The team confirmed that they too had not applied for a WorldTour licence but noted that "it seems we are in a position that could end up in some talks with the UCI.”

French team Cofidis said yesterday that they would not apply for a Giro d’Italia wildcard, feeling that they were too light in riders, with only 24 on their roster. Another potential contender for a WorldTour slot is Bora (formerly NetApp-Endura), however they have lost some of their bigger names to the WorldTour already this winter.

The initial announcement of registered teams is expected in the next month, with final confirmation coming at the beginning of December.

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.