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MTN-Qhubeka TDF Win
CBD Cycles - 14/07/2015
Steven Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) made history on stage 14 of the Tour de France picking up his team’s first ever stage in the Tour de France on Mandela Day. The British rider was part of an early break which survived the clutches of the peloton all the way to the finish in Mende.

As the African sporting story of the year continues to write itself at the Tour de France, the head of MTN-Qhubeka, the first team from the continent to participate, finds himself at the foot of the Alps for the final days of epic racing.

At the start of the day Douglas Ryder’s team, who received a wild card to enter, were ranked second overall in what is generally considered one of the hardest professional sporting contests on earth. How did it come to this? And how have a bunch of Africans and their European ringers come to dominate the 2015 Tour’s storyline?

The story is summarised by what Ryder and his team are terming “The Mandela Day Stage”, the anniversary of the former South African president’s birthday, when the British journeyman Steve Cummings – with the spectral hand of Tata Madiba pushing him on – bolted past the competition to win the stage.

“It was amazing, hey?” said Ryder on Skype. “We had an incredible stage, it’s a dream come true for sure.” He was quick to point out that the spectacular win was closely followed by a top-five finish by team-mate Louis Meintjes on stage 15 the following day.

Their budget, according to Ryder, is “between €7m and €10m ”, compared to Team Sky’s alleged €30m, who currently have Chris Froome in the yellow leader’s jersey.

But money doesn’t play in Ryder’s technique, which is simple but brutal and requires absolute buy-in from the team: the race starts and someone needs to be up at the front in the breakaway.

It’s a strategy that’s working. “Now we’ve moved to second in the classifications, and we’ve been the best team on the day three times,” says Ryder. “The team is really trying for stage wins every day. Daniel Teklehaimanot came seventh on day 16 of the Tour de France! It was super hard. It’s not like these breakaways are easy. You’re seeing the incredible recovery time, which has great potential for the future.”

At 27, Teklehaimanot is coming into his own as a great Grand Tour combatant, and with riders maturing later and later – Sir Bradley Wiggins won the Tour at 33, while Ryder Hesjedal won the Giro d’Italia at 32 – there’s no telling what the Eritrean is capable of.

“Our goals are still to try to win another stage,” Ryder said. “The guys are in really good spirits, and feel like they can do something in the mountains. We’ll continue racing the way we’re racing, and getting in the breakaways. We’re present and we’re up there.”

Ryder has been attacking the front of the peloton almost every day with the Belgian Serge Pauwels, Teklehaimanot, or Louis Meinjies – a relentless offence that has paid off so far.

Meinjies, though battered from a crash on stage 15, has not backed off, and while most teams have lost riders MTN remains fully staffed at nine. How has Ryder pulled this off?

“You’ve gotta be lucky,” he said, “and it’s not like we haven’t had riders crash. But I think it goes down to the preparation of the team. We’ve had 90% of our guys finish in the top 10. It just shows that everybody has had an opportunity to perform and to be successful.”

But if Ryder, a rookie manager, is having such success, are some big names now desperate to sign up to MTN?

“Yes, some of the team managers have said we’re having a dream tour. It goes down to planning and strategy – and our lofty goals have a lot of detail behind them.

“The vibe in the team [is good]; a lot of people seeing us laughing. We have staff from other teams looking at us, they want to come to our to team – our riders have the freedom to perform.”

So can we expect a blockbuster signing?

We couldn't be more ready, says first African team to enter Tour de France
“Well,” said Ryder, “we’ll be making strategy going forward, building the depth of the team. Some really interesting individuals are coming forward. We want to bolster our Classics group” – the monster one-day European Spring races – “and to strengthen that aspect of the team.”

“There are a lot of good riders on the market that could join us and not change the culture,” said Ryder. “There are some amazing people who want to join this team, which is amazing for our African riders – which is ultimately what this team is about.”