Ten UCI victories, two team victories and 10 podium finishes, these are some of the outstanding accolades achieved by Africa’s first Pro-Cycling Team, Team MTN Qhubeka, in their inaugural season on the international cycling stage in 2013.
This is the story of a commendable performance by the MTN-sponsored and Samsung-powered team in only their first few months riding internationally following several years of sweat, hard work, preparations and talent identification programmes in the African continent to produce the exciting, youthful and talented blend of continental riders.
Comprising nine South African riders and six apiece from other parts of Africa and Europe, it has taken Team MTN Qhubeka just under five years to realise its objective of nurturing cycling talent in South Africa to realise their dream of the team competing on the international arena. The team has tasted success quickly and have taken giant strides as evidenced in numerous victories in Europe since the start of the year.
The fantastic story of the rise of the black and yellow clad team of riders led by Gerald Ciolek has seen Team MTN Qhubeka become the most exciting team to make their debut on the international and European circuit as the first African Pro Continental team at that level.
The team’s success began with local boys Louis Mentjies and Jay Thomson winning the National Championships of South Africa in March this year. In the same week, experienced team member and captain of the Pro Cycling Team, Gerald Ciolek won the stage 2 of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen in Belgium. Not long after that, Ciolek clinched one of the greatest one-day races in Italy, the Milan-San Remo, much to the jubilation of the South African cycling community back in South Africa taking up head-line space in the sporting pages of media publications locally.
Following closely on the heels of Ciolek to taste success was Ethiopian rider Tsgabu Grmay who won stage 5 of the Tour de Taiwan in late March, his first win in a professional race. Victorious results did not stop there in Italy for Ciolek as he lead from the front again maintaining his fine form on the bike as he won stage 3 of the famous Bayern-Rundfarht in Germany in May.
The fairytale ride of Team MTN Qhubeka continued in June with another stage win, this time Kristian Sbaragli getting the leader’s jersey in the Tour de Korea in Asia. The team has continued to take cue from the word, Qhubeka, meaning – “move forward and progress” – in the second half of the year with successes and podium finishes in the Tour of Portugal in early August with a few other European and international engagements still to come.
These results have brought much elation to main team sponsor, MTN who remain fully committed to the team and are pleased that the dream of having an African cycling team competing on the international stage has become a reality. The brand aims to continue supporting the development cycling talent in South Africa and the African continent.
Furthermore, the warm, homely environment provided by the team’s management in ensuring that the rider’s essential needs such as nutrition, first class training and life skills development are taken care off has been acknowledged by the team captain, Ciolek. “It is a very professional team where every rider is treated as an equal.”
Team MTN Qhubeka races for a greater cause that is about mobilizing and changing people’s lives in Africa. Through the Qhubeka programme it helps people move forward and progress by giving bicycles in return for work done to improve communities, the environment or academic results.
Having a bicycle changes lives by increasing the distance a person can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get to their destination.
This CSI programme is aimed at addressing some of the socio-economic problems in South Africa by providing bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and communities.
The Qhubeka programme affords children to earn bicycles, which over time will hopefully assist the team to develop an African World Cycling champion. This would not be possible if the children did not have bicycles to start with at a grass root level.
The success of this programme is clearly evident in that more than 40 000 bikes been distributed by Qhubeka since 2005. The time a learner takes to commute to school is reduced up to 75% with a bicycle while it has been revealed that marks improve by an average of 25% for children who ride a bicycle to school. Schools where children ride bicycles see attendance figures rise by 18% on average.
One of the shining lights of the Qhubeka programme and a heart-warming story of the success of development by Team MTN Qhubeka is Songezo Jim, 21, from Cape Town. He became the first black South African to participate in a World Tour event this year having only learnt how to ride in his teenage years.
Team MTN Qhubeka partners, Samsung, have also contributed in advancing the team’s progress by providing the latest technological devices in the form of smartphones and tablets. This ensures that the team stays connected whilst racing overseas which should further fuel the team’s ambitions of success and qualify for the most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, in the near future.
Only time will tell if Africa’s only Pro-Continental cycling team will continue re-writing world cycling history…