THE first African team to compete in the Tour de France claim their black riders have been subjected to racism and bullying in the professional peloton.
The South African team’s principal, Doug Ryder, claimed that the incident was far from a one-off, alleging further racist abuse and bullying from within the peloton towards his riders.
MTN Qhubeka had a bittersweet day. Their Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot made cycling history, becoming the first black African to wear a leader’s jersey at a grand tour when he claimed the polka dot jersey for best climber on Wednesday’s sixth stage from Abbeville to Le Havre. However, it emerged that one of their other rider, Eritrean Natnael Berhane, was branded a “nig**r” in a corresponding professional race on Wednesday at the Tour of Austria by a Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau with the CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice team.
Natnael Berhane climbs that day to third overall on GC just behind Hirt in yellow and Hermans in 2nd, after a solid ride to Drobatsch.
MTN Qhubeka made an official complaint to the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, to have Branislau Samoilau thrown out of the race for alleged racial abuse of their Eritrean champion Natnael Berhane.
Samoilau reportedly paid a month’s salary to the Qhubeka charity by way of an apology, although officials in France are hoping the UCI do not leave it there.
MTN officials as well hope the UCI — cycling’s world governing body — will act because they claim their athletes were told by other riders to “f**k off to the back of the bunch” at last year’s Tour of Spain, and that “baboon chants” were heard at another race in Europe this year.
Ryder claimed that his riders had regularly had to battle prejudice and bullying in professional cycling, with the team’s non-African signings such as Tyler Farrar and Edvald Boasson-Hagen having to step in on occasion.
“Yesterday one of the riders from another team said to Natnael Berhane “Get out of the way, you effing nig**r’. Just outrageous,” Ryder said.
“And one of the biggest teams in the world last year in the Tour of Spain, when we trying to bring one of our riders to the front going into the mountains, said: “You guys don’t belong here, fuck off to the back of the bunch“. We have riders like Tyler and Edvald, riders who are well respected in the peloton, and they are their team-mates, and they say, “Hey guys, come on, these guys deserve to be here’.”
Ryder added: “We have had massive support from the major team owners and bosses. Guys like Shayne Bannan, Dave Brailsford, Viacheslav Ekimov. Those guys love this team. They believe they should be here. But some of the riders are struggling to grasp what we are doing here. They are in the minority, I’m glad to say.”
CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice team spokesperson did not deny the allegations. “In the heat of the battle some words have been said by our rider, which were very unfortunate and unacceptable,” he said.
“We, as a team, do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and the rider will suffer consequences. Before the next stage the situation has been clarified between two teams and the riders, but we don’t want to get into details.”
New to the Tour this year, MTN-Qhubeka are a ground-breaking pro-continental team with five African riders here in France – two of whom are black [Eritreans] – and hoping to promote cycling as a sport in a continent already boasting some of the finest endurance athletes in the world.