MTN-Qhubeka: Sim­ply magnifique

CityPress - - Sport - MIKE FINCH sports@city­press.co.za Finch is editor of Bi­cy­cling mag­a­zine

In sport­ing terms, MTN-Qhubeka’s per­for­mance at the Tour de France this year would be a lit­tle like Ro­ma­nia win­ning the rugby World Cup. It has quite sim­ply been as­ton­ish­ing.

When the team re­ceived a wild-card en­try into the most pres­ti­gious cy­cling event in the world last year, there were many who thought that the best they could do was to make up the num­bers, get in a few break­aways for some TV time and end Le Tour with some re­spect from the big money Euro­pean out­fits.

But over the last three weeks, this rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced team with a rookie man­ager and a bud­get less than a third of many Euro­pean set-ups, has proven that they can sweat it with the best.

Up un­til Thurs­day, they were sec­ond over­all in the team stand­ings, had held the pres­ti­gious King of the Moun­tains polka-dot jersey and, the cherry on top, even won a stage.

To say that they have lived up to their qhubeka name – an Nguni word for mov­ing for­ward – is an un­der­state­ment.

In fact, the trade­mark black-and-white striped jer­seys have ar­guably been the most vis­i­ble colours in break­aways and have got the cy­cling world all aflut­ter dur­ing the 21-stage, 3 360km race around France.

The team is made up of a com­bi­na­tion of South African, African, Euro­pean and US riders but, un­like the South African-spon­sored Bar­loworld team that par­tic­i­pated in 2007 and 2008 and was reg­is­tered in the UK, MTN-Qhubeka is reg­is­tered in South Africa and is run by team prin­ci­pal and for­mer South African na­tional team rider Doug Ry­der.

The early star for the team was lanky Eritrean Daniel Tek­le­haimanot who grabbed the King of the Moun­tains jersey on the sixth stage to be­come the first African to wear the polka-dot jersey in Tour history.

Sadly, climber Louis Mein­t­jes was forced to with­draw with a stom­ach ail­ment in the fi­nal week but not un­til he fin­ished fifth on Stage 12 – the high­est plac­ing by a South African in a moun­tain stage in the history of the Tour.

And then there is the young Mer­hawi Kudus, another Eritrean, who at 21 is the youngest rider in the pelo­ton and is al­ready be­ing tipped as a fu­ture over­all con­tender.

Throw in the reg­u­lar top 10 fin­ishes from ex­pe­ri­enced Nor­we­gian Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen and MTN-Qhubeka’s per­for­mance was the envy of ev­ery team man­ager in the race.

And if that wasn’t enough, Bri­ton Steve Cum­mings pulled off the big­gest coup of them all when he screamed past a two-man break­away and ca­reened down a short de­scent to give the African team their first stage win on Man­dela Day last Satur­day.

You just have to look up the video of Ry­der cel­e­brat­ing the vic­tory, and em­brac­ing an emo­tional Cum­mings, to un­der­stand how much it meant.

The script for MTN-Qhubeka at the 2015 Tour de France could not have been writ­ten any bet­ter. History will show that this was the mo­ment African cy­cling ar­rived.

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