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by Shane Stokes
December 13, 2014
The chances of MTN Qhubeka riding its first Tour de France will be made clearer in the coming weeks, with ASO thought likely to name the teams which will receive wildcards to the race in January.
The African team is working hard to ensure that it will be there and, in order to be able to best meet the demands of riding the Tour plus the Vuelta a España, it is aiming to close deals which will bring extra capital to the squad.
The money will be used to expand the infrastructure and to also bring on three extra riders, thus bumping up the roster from the current total of 22 to 25.
General manager Brian Smith spoke to CyclingTips a month ago and said then that he was hoping those deals would be concluded soon. While that process has taken longer than he envisaged, progress is being made and now an additional company is in talks with the team.
“The talks are ongoing,” he told CyclingTips on Thursday. “Things have been slow but going in the right direction. It is just taking a while for them to clear all of the funds and the paperwork.
“We have got another contact today about a potential partnership from a major company here in the UK. So, another British sponsor. Things are looking good but we just have to push and get these companies to commit.”
Smith confirmed that he has riders in mind. If and when these come on board, they will further bolster a team which has made some important signings in recent months.
Those new riders already signed include Matt Goss, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Theo Bos, Tyler Farrar, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, Serge Pauwels, Steve Cummings and Natnael Berhane.
The acquisitions greatly ramp up the experience level of the team and should lead to greater results in the short to medium term as well as helping the young riders already on board to progress.
While MTN Qhubeka tried to secure a Tour invite in 2014, the line-up for next season gives it a much stronger case for inclusion.
Smith said that if the team was given notification that it was going to be in the Tour, it would help a lot in securing the extra funding, infrastructure and riders needed. However he accepts that he just has to push on to try to get those companies signed up as soon as possible.
“It is a chicken and egg situation,” he said. “ASO and the Vuelta would like us to have nearer 25 riders to ride both Grand Tours, but they have to confirm to us if we are participating. If ASO turn around to us and say we are doing the Tour, then that is great.
“We have got bonuses in place from particular sponsors for the Tour de France ride, so if we get these [extra] sponsors then that frees up some extra cash for us to take on some other riders. It is all a waiting game. But when you are a second-division team, that is what you have to deal with.
“In some ways these WorldTour teams have got it easy [in knowing the races they will ride]. Then again,” he added, “they are under a lot of pressure from the sponsors.”
The team recently held a training camp in South Africa. The new signings travelled to meet the riders who were already on board, and Smith was pleased with how things went.
“I’m very happy…very happy,” he said. “Everybody integrated together as expected and I am very, very happy with the team.”
With the first camp done and dusted, most of the riders will spend time a home over the holiday period. The team will meet up again in January for a training camp and then riders will split off and begin the 2015 calendar of races.
The first on the team’s list is the Challenge Mallorca, with the first race in the series beginning on January 29. Others will head to Australia for the new Cadel Evans race plus the Jayco Herald SunTour. After that, the team will ride the Tour of Qatar.
At that point in time it should know if it has a place in the 2015 Tour de France. It will also have a much clearer view of its budget for the coming year and, with that, have the final roster in place.
Currently at 22, a 25-man team would give it the structure to tackle two Grand Tours and more in what should be its biggest season yet.