AS THE 2015 Tour de France heads towards its third week, MTN-Qhubeka Team Principal Douglas Ryder made the boldest prediction of the event so far.
I believe there is a future African Tour de France winner in [Eritrean] Merhawi Kudus. He is the youngest rider in the Tour de France this year, at just 21, and has the potential to be one of the best stage race riders in the world.”
While the sports world focuses on Chris Froome, still wearing the yellow jacket at the head of the field at the end of Stage 12, the more significant developments for the future may be happening further back in the peloton.
This year opened a new chapter as MTN-Qhubeka became the first African team to compete, with five African-based riders, including Eritreans Merhawi Kudus and Daniel Teklehaimanot, making an emotional breakthrough as the first black Africans in Tour history.
Teklehaimanot starred in the first week, leading two breakaways to take the King of the Mountains jersey into the Pyrénées. But it is Kudus who Ryder feels could be a future winner.
How long might it be before we see an African winner of the Tour de France? “I believe we could see a podium finish in the next three to five years,” said Ryder, whose MTN-Qhubeka team are Laureus Ambassadors.
“As a boy, if you are interested in cycling, you dream of going to the Tour de France and now they have realised their dream. Their participation in the Tour this year is a door opener for African cycling as the rest of the continent now believes it is possible to compete on the world’s stage. The future of African cycling is bright.
“It is a dream come true for them and for this team. They are not only incredible athletes, but also incredible human beings with so much to offer on the bike in terms of performance and off the bike in terms of promoting the talent of Africa. They are paving the way for future African cycling in Europe and understand they have a big responsibility in that.”
Ryder has big targets for the future on the road and off it. “Our goal is to put 5,000 students on bicycles through our bicycleschangelives.com initiative. To do that we want to be very visible in the Tour, hope to win a stage, wear a leader’s jersey and be aggressive in the mountains.
“After the Tour de France we have three weeks to the start of the Tour of Spain (La Vuelta a Espana) the final grand tour of the year. We want to give more of our African riders an opportunity to gain the experience and ride a three-week grand tour, then the World Championships in Richmond, U.S., in September.”
Ryder says it is an “honour” for MTN-Qhubeka to be recognized by Laureus as Ambassadors. “Leveraging sport to do good for others is what our team stands for. Sports teams and sports people have the power to help others through the exposure and coverage they get in doing their sport. To be able to take that success and help others realise their dreams and to have opportunities to succeed in life is something really special.”
Former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans praised the team’s achievements. He said:
“MTN-Qhubeka’s participation marks a step forward for the internationalisation of cycling, but more importantly the development of cycling on the African continent. I hope they are a team that can further develop in the future. I’m proud you have so many Tour de France riders involved with Laureus.”