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by Shane Stokes
June 7, 2015
Photography by By Cor Vos
Although the MTN-Qhubeka team previously said that it would ideally like to step up to WorldTour level next season, general manager Brian Smith now states that the move will almost certainly happen in 2017 instead.
“Our goal was to go WorldTour [in 2016] but at this moment in time, it looks like we are almost guaranteed to stay where we are, Pro Continental,” he told CyclingTips
“But there are some negotiations at the moment which may help go to WorldTour. If it is not next year, it will possibly be the year after for WorldTour….it is just the case of waiting for some extra financial backing.”
The African team has been racing at Pro Continental level since the start of the 2013 season and stepping up a level has long been a goal. The long term aim was graduating to WorldTour; before then, it set out the target of riding a Grand Tour, and then doing the Tour de France.
It achieved the second of those goals last season when the team debuted in the Vuelta a España. This year, it secured the all-important invite to the Tour de France and also got a wildcard place in the Vuelta once again.
It will line out in the first of those in a little under a month’s time, and announced the 11 man shortlist earlier this week.
As regards the WorldTour aim, Smith said that aside from the financial question, there was also the question of making that step up when the time is correct.
“We want to do things right,” he explained. “We don’t want to go in there too soon. If you look at IAM, for example, they were put under a lot of pressure, they went to WorldTour this year. I think it is difficult to do, to step up to that level.”
Aside from the pressure of fielding strong squads in multiple races simultaneously, the Scot said that another consideration is making sure that those on the team are ready to compete regularly at the top level.
“You have got to remember we have to look after the development of African riders,” he said. “I think it is a bit much for some of these African riders at present to throw them straight into the WorldTour and have a triple programme. So that is the situation we are in.”
Of course, if Smith and the rest of the MTN Qhubeka management feel that a repeat invitation to the Tour de France is likely next season, that reduces the importance of being a WorldTour team in 2016. All of the WorldTour teams have automatic entry to the Tour, but those who feel confident of securing wildcard invites to the race don’t need to incur the additional costs plus the increased logistical demands.