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MTN-Qhubeka, a remarkable team: 2013 flashback

Added: saturday 11 January 2014 at 16:40:00
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    MTN-Qhubeka, a remarkable team: 2013 flashback2013 has now come to an end and 2014 has already started a few days ago. During the 2013 cycling season, the African MTN-Qhubeka team stepped up a level in the cycling hierarchy by becoming a Pro Continental team (since 2008 it had been present in the cycling peloton as a Continental team and was thus a little bit less visible in the different UCI races than in 2013).
    Rob Child, of the Elite Sport Group (ESG), is the African team's nutritional biochemist and is often involved in the team's activities. Rob kindly accepted to provide Velowire's readers a look behind the scenes of this remarkable team through different stories to come throughout the year.

    Thanks to Rob's contributions we will be able to discover how MTN-Qhubeka works towards its goal to participate in the Giro d'Italia in 2014 and onwards to the Tour de France in 2015! There are quite some stories to tell about this team which tries to reach its high targets despite of its relatively small budget.
    As a starter, Rob would like to give you an insight in what happened in 2013, the first season in which the team was registered as a Pro Continental Team.

    MTN-Qhubeka: Review of 2013

    When the African MTN-Qhubeka team started the 2013 season they looked much like any other Continental Team taking the step up to Pro Continental level. But with a budget half that of it's Pro Continental competitors and a tenth that of the 'Super teams' the odds were stacked against it. Couple this with riders of unknown or unfulfilled talent and many people had written the team off before they had even turned a pedal in anger. But looking beyond the obvious reveals that MTN-Qhubeka is like no other; a team that races to change people's lives by raising awareness of the Qhubeka charity. This provides African communities with the ultimate in sustainable transport – the bicycle.... increasing access to education, healthcare and self-sufficiency.

    Within the team things were also different, the limited budget meant there were no 'star' riders... instead there was a stable of young hopefuls, who all aspired to race against the best riders in the world.... Three quarters of the squad were made up of African cycling talent, with half the riders being black Africans, a first for the pro peloton and perhaps a sign of things to come...

    Tirreno Adriatico was MTN-Qhubeka's first UCI WorldTour race. Going head to head with the sporting giants such as Sky, Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Garmin-Sharp provided a genuine test of the team's quality and strength. While the media commended the team's 3rd place on the first stage with Gerald Ciolek, Kristian Sparagli's 8th place epitomised the team's fighting spirit. The 22 year-old taking Peter Sagan's wheel in the last 10kms before beating him in the final dash to the line... This fighting spirit is what MTN-Qhubeka are about: a team with an inner confidence and drive that is no respecter of other teams budgets or reputations...

    Songezo Jim, here at the end of the Tour of BritainThese characteristics also served MTN-Qhubeka well when they were given a wildcard entry to the ultimate classic ... Milan-Sanremo. The ever-smiley Songezo Jim made history as the first black South African to start a UCI WorldTour race. In what turned out to be a baptism of ice, Songezo gave a commendable performance, finally succumbing to the cold conditions long after many established stars sought the sanctuary of their team buses.
    But the big news was at the head of the race! All the teams had been decimated by the freezing conditions, nullifying the advantages of wind tunnel testing, ultra-light bikes, electronic gear shifting and super-domestiques. The finish was a battle of the race's three hardest and strongest men: Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara and Gerald Ciolek – the result, a victory for MTN-Qhubeka's Gerald Ciolek. Just 3 months into the race season and the team had already clinched it's first monument classic!
    Team principal Doug Ryder – who in many ways provides the inspiration for MTN-Qhubeka's success – is a confirmed dreamer (and doer). But even he didn't believe MTN-Qhubeka could win Milan-Sanremo in it's debut.
    This victory spurred other MTN-Qhubeka riders to produce outstanding performances. Tsgarbu Grmay made history as the first Ethiopian rider to win a UCI race, providing evidence that Ethiopian middle and long distance running talent can successfully be transferred to road cycling.

    Despite the absence of a multi million euro lead out train, Gerald Ciolek continued to consistently finish on the podium, taking wins at the Tour of Austria and Britain.

    Sergio Pardilla answering the media at Volta a PortugalFast forward to August and the team gets to ride its biggest stage race to date, Volta a Portugal. Just one step down from a Grand Tour, this provides a serious physical and mental test, even for top-level professionals. For MTN-Qhubeka this race served as a marker of where the team was relative to it's goal of riding competitively at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. On paper, the team was unremarkable, comprising of very young and relatively inexperienced riders.
    MTN Qhubeka's Sergio Pardilla, formerly a support rider at Movistar, charged out of the peloton and into the limelight, winning a mountain top stage and taking the race leader's yellow jersey. Over the following days the team worked tirelessly in daily temperatures over 40°C to defend the lead. This required huge personal sacrifices from the whole team. Most notable was South African Road Race Champion Jay Thompson, setting aside his personal ambitions to repeatedly attack and draw the sting from competing teams. The superhuman efforts of the MTN-Qhubeka team helped maintain the race lead for 4 incredible days.

    The Tour of Britain was MTN-Qhubeka's last European national tour and once again the team was to the fore. Gerald Ciolek showed he was more than a match for the world's fastest sprinters by taking a stage and in the process leading both the race and the points classification. Climbing specialist Sergio Pardilla demonstrated another facet of the huge cycling talent that is packed into his 58kg body by finishing 9th in the flat time trial, simply stating: "Today I had good legs". On stage 6 these were given a challenge they were even better suited on the queen stage to Haytor. The race commentators extolled the abilities of a two man break made up of Tour de France King of the Mountains Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin, who they described as "the best climbers in the world". But it took them a while to recognise Sergio Pardilla easing across the gap to drive the break. He eventually finished fourth on the stage, ahead of Quintana, Martin and Bradley Wiggins.

    MTN-QhubekaAs the European season drew to the close racing was still ongoing. At the Tour of Rwanda the team showed it's strength by finishing 4 riders in the top 10 of the prologue, but it was in bunch racing that the team really made its mark. On the first road stage Jay Thomson took an emotional first win in the South African Champion's jersey, quickly followed by a victory for under 23 World Road Race silver medalist Louis Meintjes. MTN-Qhubeka 'helper' Johann Van Zyl found previously untapped sprinting skills to help himself to a win. In the final flourish of the 2013 season Algerian sprinter Youcef Reguigui took his first stage win of the season.

    Reflecting back on 2013, the MTN-Qhubeka's performances can be viewed at many levels, and every one of them successful. Increased awareness of the Qhubeka charity has improved people's lives by providing more than three thousand five hundred bicycles in 2013. The riders and staff who joined MTN-Qhubeka dared to dream big and have surpassed their expectations. In their debut season MTN-Qhubeka is ranked number 2 Pro Continental team!
    Team Principal Doug Ryder summed up this incredible season saying:
    • 2013 showed what is possible if a team races for something far bigger and more important than winning races, it pushes you to greater heights. Cycling has changed the lives of 70% of the riders on this team for the better and they are not going to let it go.
    ... and the story doesn't stop there. MTN-Qhubeka has signed more riders who dream, and have the hunger to succeed. Former Tour de France Yellow jersey Linus Gerdemann, John-Lee Augustyn, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus will also be donning MTN-Qhubeka colours to do battle in 2014.

    • Rob ChildElite Sport GroupDepending on Rob Child's availability, future stories will cover things like the 2014 season's goals for MTN-Qhubeka, the particular context of some riders in the team making their comeback in professional cycling (Linus Gerdemann and John-Lee Augustyn who were both without a contract in 2013) but also more specific things related to Rob's main field of activity, the nutrition of the team. If you'd like to find out anything specific about the team, please feel free to ask. If possible, you might find the answer to your questions in one of Rob's future articles.

      In the meantime, please don't hesitate to visit the Elite Sport Group's website or the official website of Team MTN-Qhubeka.

    by Rob Child, MTN-Qhubeka's nutritional biochemist
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Currently 5 comments!
  1. Nice review - good to see that cycling is growing in Africa - will be following MTN-Qhubeka's progress with interest this season! Looking forward to further updates!

    | Tim | monday 13 January 2014 at 10:12:37

  2. Good to hear awareness is being raised through good results around a charity as opposed to large companies with large marketing budgets. Success breeds success so I too look forward to following the team with interest. I'm sure there is much untapped talent in Africa!

    | Jas | monday 13 January 2014 at 11:07:35

  3. Nice to hear what MTN - Qhubeka´s in doing in Africa. Very far from what happen in Brazil.

    | fabio ferreira | monday 13 January 2014 at 15:13:22

  4. A fascinating insight into the oiling of the wheels of a team with interesting and pretty unique challenges to face.Heartwarming to see the children on their bikes. A really worthwhile project to support I think.

    | edd harrison | saturday 17 May 2014 at 10:37:54

  5. The sky's the limit for a good cause and a motivated team even without the backing of an oligarch.How will things pan out in 2014?

    | charlemaigne butt | saturday 17 May 2014 at 11:18:07

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