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New sponsor for NTT would be lifeline for African cycling, says Thomson

VICTOR HARBOR AUSTRALIA JANUARY 25 Ryan Gibbons of South Africa Team NTT Pro Cycling Dylan Sunderland of Australia Team NTT Pro Cycling Samuele Battistella of Italy Team NTT Pro Cycling Peloton during the 22nd Santos Tour Down Under 2020 Stage 5 a 1491km stage from Glenelg to Victor Harbor TDU tourdownunder UCIWT on January 25 2020 in Victor Harbor Australia Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
NTT Pro Cycling in action at the Tour Down Under (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Jay  Thomson has said that any brand or sponsor willing to come in and save the NTT Pro Cycling squad would be saving African cycling and keeping open a door that seen dozens of riders from the continent have their shot at racing in the WorldTour.

The 34-year-old rider has also told Cyclingnews that keeping the team alive for 2021 would also help children on bikes in Africa, thanks to the team's longstanding commitment with Qhubeka Charity.

On Monday evening team boss Doug Ryder asked all NTT Pro Cycling staff and riders to dial into an online video call, at which point he confirmed the news that NTT would be stepping aside as the team's title sponsor at the end of this year after talks of extending the current deal proved unsuccessful.

"Of course it's a big shock to everyone," Thomson told Cyclingnews.

"We didn't expect it. At the same time we have to say thank you to NTT for the many years that they've backed the team and carried us as Dimension Data. It's a sad way to see the turn of events. I don't know what else to say.

"We've still got some hope but everyone has to try and find something new. It's October. I know that Douglas won't stop searching until the bitter end. This is his baby and he's put his whole life into this," said the South African.

Ryder has built the team from the bottom up and transformed them into a WorldTour power over several years. Their win rate in recent years has tailed off but the squad has still provided opportunities to African riders that few other teams at the top of the sport have done. The team has worked tirelessly alongside Qhubeka Charity with their riders and staff all buying into the organisation's message that bicycles change lives.

Thomson has been with Ryder's teams for the majority of his career and he has seen first hand how important their message and approach has been.

"This is super important as a stepping stone for us African riders hoping to make it into the WorldTour. Coming to race in Europe as an African team was a dream. I've know Douglas since 2005 when I rode for his feeder team, so I've been on and off with his team for 11 years now.

"I can't imagine the feeling that he's going through because this is his baby. I didn't know that NTT would do this, it was a shock, I won't lie but as I said they've done great things for the team. Now we're at ground zero but we have to start again and see what's possible," he said.

"With Qhubeka we have a different angle with what we strive to do. We have a different purpose with our team. We could potentially lose that. People can now see what African riders can do. Robbie Hunter started it all and then with Daryl [Impey] and Louis [Meintjes], the whole bunch of us that came through.

"What Douglas has done for African cycling, you can never take that away," Thomson added. "He's opened peoples eyes to the potential within Africa. What he's done has been exceptional. I feel heartbroken for him. I hope that something comes and that the team can continue but I know that this is difficult year."

Thomson and his teammates must now decide whether to immediately look for spots on other teams or hope that a last-minute sponsor can be found, but the 34-year-old was adamant as to how important a new title sponsor could prove to be.

"If a sponsor came through now at the last minute it would be lifeline for African cycling. They'd be saving more than just us professional cyclists, they'd be saving kids on bicycles through Quebeka. Our team does a huge amount for that because we carry the name of Quebeka around the world. It would be incredible if a sponsor saw that and kept African cycling alive," said Thomson.