By Cycling News,
Team MTN-Qhubeka has named Eritrea’s National Champion Natnael Berhane along with Louis Meintjes and Tour de France stage winner Steve Cummings in its line-up for the Vuelta a España, which begins in Marbella on August 22.
Berhane missed out on selection for his debut Tour de France in July but has been in fine form over the summer, placing 5th overall at the Tour of Austria and 7th at the Tour of Utah. The Eritrean champion will be at the forefront of MTN-Qhubeka’s bid for stage wins.
“I am happy to start my second La Vuelta. As Eritrean champion I will have the chance to represent my country and Africa. I hope to ride a good race and to continue where I left off in Utah,” said Berhane, in his first year at MTN-Qhubeka after joining from Europcar.
Cummings, such an impressive victory at Mende during the Tour, already has a Vuelta stage win to his name from his time at BMC, the Briton is one of just two non-African riders in the MTN-Qhubeka roster, along with Italian Kristian Sbaragli.
Meintjes lines up at the Vuelta eager to build on a mixed Tour de France debut that saw him perform so impressively at Plateau de Beille only to be forced out of the race through illness in the final week. The youngster is one of five South Africans in the team along with Jaco Venter, Johann Van Zyl, Songezo Jim and Jay Thomson.
Algeria’s Youcef Reguigui, winner of the Tour de Langkawi this season, is also included, and he is one of three Grand Tour debutants in the squad, along with Jim and Van Zyl.
“This team is about opportunities. We wanted to give most of our riders the opportunity to ride a Grand Tour this year,” general manager Brian Smith said. “Berhane and Meintjes will shine in the mountains. Sbaragli and Reguigui will battle in the sprints. We will look at opportunities for Cummings, Jim, Thomson, Van Zyl and Venter.”
Directeur sportif Jens Zemke highlighted the presence of seven African riders in the MTN-Qhubeka Vuelta line-up, and explained the rationale behind the team’s turnover from the Tour selection, with just two riders doubling up.
“Our strategy will be very similar to the one at the Tour de France, where we focused more on the stages than on the GC,” Zemke said. “With two riders on board who raced in France – our Golden Boy Steve Cummings who took the stage on Mandela Day, and Louis Meintjes – as well as seven riders that specifically prepared themselves for La Vuelta in the last few weeks, I am sure we can live up to this goal.”
MTN-Qhubeka team for the Vuelta a España: Natnael Berhane (Eri), Steve Cummings (GBr), Songezo Jim (RSA), Louis Meintjes (RSA), Youcef Reguigui (Alg), Kristian Sbaragli (Ita),Jay Thomson (RSA), Johann Van Zyl (RSA) and Jaco Venter (RSA).
— Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team (@Q36_5ProCycling) August 14, 2015