MTN Qhubeka makes history for Africa, impresses with Vuelta opening ride

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The MTN Qhubeka squad had double reason to be satisfied with Saturday’s opening stage of the Vuelta a España, ending the day having made history and also performing with distinction against many of the sport’s biggest teams.

The South African outfit was first to start the team time trial in Jerez de la Frontera and in doing so, became the first African-registered squad to begin a Grand Tour.

In addition to that, it placed a commendable 12th out of 22 teams, finishing just 29 seconds off the race lead, conceding just two seconds to 11th-placed Sky and beating no less than seven WorldTour squads.

“Coming into the race as a wild card, Africa’s team were more or less expected to battle it out for the bottom four positions,” noted the team. “This was not to be the case, though. After being the only team to get shuttled to the start by horse and carriage, the Team MTN-Qhubeka riders hit the course hard and fast.”

Jay Thomson savoured the result, describing the outcome as incredible.

“We went out of the starting blocks like race horses and we were going really well. Then as the race goes, on a technical course like this, you are either on the giving end or receiving end,” he said. “A couple of us got spat out the back but it’s better to finish with five or six than to have all nine riders still.

“It shows the team went full gas for everything. It was a great day and a great start. Sergio [Pardilla] was at the front so we can’t complain.

Directeur sportif Jens Zemke was similarly upbeat at what happened.

“Really, we could not have asked for a better result. You can see there are big WorldTour teams behind us and even a team like Sky has only beaten us by two seconds.

“I am very happy with the boys’ performance and if you look at the crowds today, I don’t think you could have put more people on that course today. So we put on a great show; that is what we came to do.”

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