MTN-Qhubeka: Simply magnifique
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.