A South African cycling team will be the first from the continent to compete in cycling’s biggest race.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
The Tour de France is one of the largest, most prominent cycling competitions in the world, but in over a century of annual races, not a single African team has ever competed. That changes this year: on Wednesday, Tour de France organizers issued one of five wildcard invitations to MTN-Qhubeka, a team from South Africa.
“[MTN-Qhubeka’s] participation in the tour will help accelerate the progression of African cycling,” Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, told AFP. “The team has reinforced its youngsters with experienced riders to continue its progress. In recent years, people have said of Boasson Hagan that he would dominate world cycling. As for Boss, Farrar, and Goss, they’re very good sprinters.”
The Tour de France, which will run from July 4th to July 26th, will be going on during Nelson Mandela’s birthday, which falls on the 18th. The MTN players have previously said that, should they be chosen to compete, they would honor the day with a special team kit bearing the number 67, to signify Mandela’s 67 years of service to South Africa.
Team boss Doug Ryder says this achievement will help bolster cycling culture in South Africa. For a very long time, bicycle riding had been a form of transport largely relegated to the poorest sectors of society, a legacy of Apartheid-era practices in which companies lent bikes to impoverished black laborers. Cycling as a sport continues to suffer from this stigma, although in the past decade South Africa has experienced the growth of a nascent cycling culture. This latest development is the result of strong efforts to destroy that stigma and build a national team capable of competing on a world stage.
“It's been almost 10 years of hard work and getting people to believe in this project and to believe in African cycling and the potential,” Ryder told the BBC. “African sport has always been good, especially endurance running, and our theory was always if we can get more kids on bicycles in Africa, can you imagine how we can transform cycling because of the endurance running talent that has just been so successful over the last 30 years... For us to go to the Tour de France as the first African-registered team, that door will literally never close now."