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by Shane Stokes
November 19, 2015
Photography by Cyclenation.co.za
Facing a drop in funding for 2016 after Team MTN-Qhubeka/Dimension Data opted not to continue its partnership, the World Cycling Centre Africa has said that it will take a new direction next season and beyond.
“Basically we will just be doing development training camps now,” stated WCCA director Jean Pierre (JP) Van Zyl to CyclingTips. He revealed that the team would instead transport its feeder team to Italy, ending a long association.
“We will concentrate more on women’s cycling. We will still work with the men but we will shift the focus a bit more on women’s cycling going forward. That will also fit into the budget that I do have from the UCI.”
The WCCA was established in 2005 and has helped develop riders such as Tsgabu Grmay, Youcef Reguigui, Merhawi Kudus, Natnael Berhane and Adrien Niyonshuti. Daniel Teklehaymanot and Dan Craven have also used the centre. Many of these are now part of the MTN-Qhubeka/Team Dimension Data squad.
In an interview published in late August, Van Zyl stated then that the centre was facing an uncertain future. MTN-Qhubeka had been a long-term sponsor of the WCCA, providing an estimated 20 percent of its budget. He said that this enabled the project to send riders to Europe to race, acting as a bridge between those learning the trade and those who were ready to try to move to the next level.
The remaining 80 percent of funding was provided by the UCI, enabling the day to day running of the WCCA plus the payment of salaries.
“I still have that budget,” he confirmed, speaking about the latter portion. “The UCI has been the majority partner here, always doing everything.
“But we did get clothing, we did get bikes [under the MTN-Qhubeka deal]. We hope to keep the bikes as per the contract that we had in the last three years where we were supposed to get 40 bikes a year, although not everything materialised. We are hoping to keep these bikes for the purposes of development.”
In August, MTN-Qhubeka/Dimension Data Principal Douglas Ryder said that the team’s development programme would continue.
“We are waiting to confirm everything, get everything finalised,” he explained then. “Our intention is always to continue to have a feeder team. It depends on what is available and where we are going.
“Nothing has changed, we want to develop as many African riders as we have. We are completely transparent in terms of what we are doing.”
At the time Van Zyl had expressed concern that things might change in relation to that development team and the WCCA.
Asked in recent days what the situation was now, he explained how things had panned out.
“Douglas will have his continental team for under 23s, but he will now keep it in house.
“We weren’t given reasons, he just said that he wants to do it in house. Obviously he has a much bigger budget, many times the budget we are given to run the feeder team.
“So obviously it will be a more successful feeder team, I think, with more budget than we have. They will be running the programme in Italy in Lucca [where the elite team is based – ed.]”
However, despite his disappointment, he said he wanted to focus on the bigger picture.
“I have nothing bad to say about my collaboration with Douglas. He has done what he has done, he has given my riders opportunities to do the Tour de France, which has been amazing.
“This is not a bad thing. It is actually a good thing for African cycling. I wish everybody the best of luck.
“We must see the good thing that is happening for cycling, not be bitter because it was taken away from us. Just look at the positives, get on with life and continue finding the riders that we did that are riding in his team now.”
When it emerged in August that MTN-Qhubeka – which will be named Team Dimension Data in 2016 – could potentially split with the WCCA, concern was expressed about the future for African cycling at a developmental level.
Ryder has now decided to take his feeder team elsewhere. So what will the future be for the WCCA?
Van Zyl described what his approach will be. “My intention is to try to concentrate on women’s cycling. I don’t think it will change much for the men…I just think that we will distribute it equally. The balance has not been there but we will make the balance equal.”
In theory, that could see the centre partnering with a women’s team if such a deal could be struck. “That’s absolutely possible,” he stated. “Maybe there are other teams that will contribute or who want to be part of it, you never know.
“The thing for us we shouldn’t lose sight of what the World Cycling Centre is trying to achieve. That is to get riders to the world championships, to get riders qualified for the Olympic Games and for them to have a life in cycling.
“I think we have achieved that goal [with MTN-Qhubeka]. We have helped many riders with this collaboration. This was a great collaboration. All collaborations come to an end but we are looking forward to the next one.”
Van Zyl is clearly thankful that the UCI is on board, and also thanks Wattbike for its support. The latter company has supplied ten indoor bikes to the WCCA, and these will be of importance in testing riders and monitoring their progress.
“We have got the World Cycling Center. We have got Fred Magné,” he said, referring to the UCI’s global development programme based in Switzerland, plus its director.
“He has a vision, he has been there for ten years. He knows the world of cycling and how to develop riders. I feel I am still in the right place with the right people that I can trust.
“It is all about the riders and all about the future and development. I don’t want to put up a show, I really want to develop riders. I think this is what it is all about for us.”