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by Shane Stokes
November 7, 2015
Photography by Cor Vos
The team has already made clear that it is ready and willing to step up to the WorldTour level if it is asked. Now, nearing the end of the best year in its existence, the MTN-Qhubeka/Dimension Data team has been requested to appear before the UCI’s Licence Commission in just over a week’s time.
“They have asked us to come to a licencing hearing on the 17th of this month,” Team Principal Douglas Ryder confirmed to CyclingTips on Friday. “I guess the next step is they will want to have a discussion around the team, our structure and everything like that.”
There are currently 17 WorldTour teams and with each of those applying to remain in the top level of the sport next season, one vacant slot needs to be filled for the UCI to have its preferred quota of 18 teams.
The WorldTour squads gain automatic selection to the three Grand Tours and other WorldTour events, thus giving important guarantees to teams, valuable coverage to their sponsors and enabling them to plan their schedules in advance.
Speaking to CyclingTips at the UCI headquarters this week, UCI president Brian Cookson said that the team is the logical choice to fill that slot.
“The situation now is that we have 17 teams that have applied,” he said. “Under the rules we have the capacity of inviting another team to join if they are capable of fulfilling the criteria. That is something that we are looking at at the moment with that team.
“I am hopeful, but that process is with the Licence Commission now and not with me.”
The Licence Commission is independent from the UCI and so Cookson’s own opinion is not a determinant of whether or not the team will get a place. He made that clear, but clearly recognises that the team would fit in well if the application is successful.
“I am very hopeful that they will be able to fulfil the criteria to be the 18th WorldTour team,” he stated. “In terms of their current results and the riders that they have signed as well, it would be a pretty good fit. I think we would all be delighted to see that. But as I say, it is in the hands of the Licence Commission.”
Ryder was encouraged to hear Cookson’s sentiments but knows that it is too early to take anything for granted. Teams applying for a WorldTour licence have to satisfy a number of requirements, amongst them proving they satisfy the required sporting, financial and ethical requirements to warrant a place.
“There is nothing definite, they haven’t given us any guarantees or anything like that,” he said. “I also don’t know if there are other teams who have also been invited to the Licence Commission. It could be others as well – maybe the new Europcar, they were wanting to go. Perhaps they are also being brought in.
“We need to go, they will ask us a whole lot of questions, I guess, and then they will make a call on it.”
The team’s prospects have certainly been boosted by its performances this year and also its recent signings. It received a wildcard to its first Tour de France and excelled, winning a stage, finishing fifth overall in the teams classification and also leading the mountains classification for several days.
It also picked up a stage win in the Vuelta a España and had a rider in the top ten overall.
Since then it further boosted its prospects by securing important sponsorships from Dimension Data and Deloitte, and signing Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw and Bernard Eisel.
With those three on board the team is expected to challenge for success in some of the biggest races next year.
Cookson is impressed by what it has achieved thus far.
“It is a great success and huge congratulations to the people involved with that team. They have done well,” he said. “I like the idea that they are based on an African structure and an African team. I would be even happier if they had even more African riders as well. But the reality of any top level pro team is you can’t just have one nationality or riders from one part of the world and so on.
“As long as they don’t lose their African identity, I wish them every success. I think it is a really great step forward.”
Ryder is feeling encouragement from many people. He told CyclingTips recently that the team has the required budget for such a move. It also appears to have the necessary sporting level needed for the WorldTour. Now it’s up to the Commission to decide, and the meeting on November 17th will be part of that process.
“There are lot of people who are supporting us and lots of people would love us to be in that space,” Ryder acknowledged. “So that is pretty nice. But the Licence Commission is an independent body, and so it obviously needs to go to the that commission now.”