As hinted at by the team’s general manager Brian Smith last week on CyclingTips, the MTN Qhubeka team has gone with a very strong emphasis on African riders for its Tour de France debut this July.
The South African team named its shortlist for the race on Tuesday, announcing that seven African riders and four international competitors are in the running to ride. The eleven will be reduced to nine before the start of the race.
Of those home riders, three are from South Africa. They are the national road race champion Jacques Janse van Rensburg, the African continental road race champion Louis Meintjes (pictured) and the sprinter Reinardt Janse van Rensburg.
Three Eritrean riders also make the cut, namely Merhawi Kudus, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane, while Tour de Langkawi Youcef Reguigui from Algeria is also on the list.
The four internationals are former Tour de France stage winners Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) and Tyler Farrar (USA), the Briton Steve Cummings and the Belgian Serge Pauwels.
Amongst those missing are the former Milan Sanremo winners Matt Goss and Gerald Ciolek, who Smith had said were not guaranteed a place due to their quiet seasons thus far.
Also missing out is another sprinter, the injured Theo Bos.
The riders on the shortlist will be narrowed down after a number of upcoming races including the Criterium du Dauphine and Ster ZLM Toer.
“The realisation of the dream of taking an African registered team to the ultimate annual cycling event Le Tour de France is upon us and around the corner,” said team Principal Douglas Ryder. “The squad selected is perfect for the event this year consisting of specialist climbers, Classics-type riders, time trial lists and riders that can spend hours riding in the breakaways going for stage wins.
“All 23 riders and all staff in the team have worked incredibly hard to get this amazing squad of riders ready for our biggest challenge ever. This is our chance to open the door for African cycling and to race for a greater cause to mobilise 5.000 African students on bicycles. We are about to realize our dream and through this we want to encourage others to follow theirs.”
The team said that it will make history this summer, stating that it will become the first African-registered team to participate in the Tour de France. Barloworld previous rode the race, but was registered in Britain and Italy.
The exclusion of Goss and Ciolek will likely prompt debate due to their past histories; aside from their Milan-Sanremo wins, each have clocked up stage wins in the Vuelta a España.
However Smith noted their modest results this season and said that the team would not be selected on past experience alone.
He told CyclingTips last week that just two names were guaranteed at that point: Boasson Hagen and Jacques Janse van Rensburg.
Boasson Hagen was injured earlier this season, missing out on his goal of chasing a Classic win, but has shown strong form of late in Norwegian races. He said he was looking forward to being part of the team and to helping boost the profile of its associated charity, Qhubeka.
It provides bicycles to disadvantaged populations, both helping them and also building a grassroots for the sport.
“It is nice to be part of “writing” history,” said the Norwegian, who won two Tour stages in 2011. “We are going to have a strong team, and hopefully we will get some good success. This will be great to raise awareness for Qhubeka.”
Janse van Rensburg described his selection as a dream come true. “After years of hard work and dedication I have the South African national stripes on my back as South African champion. To have a chance to represent my team and country as well as our greater cause in the Tour de France is a great honour and the reason why I am riding my bike.”
MTN-Qhubeka has said that it views the opportunity as one that brings a great responsibility, and that it would start the Tour “with clear objectives and a strong team.”