Mark Cavendish and his new team-mates must work together or risk ruining everything that team Dimension Data and Qhubeka represents in Africa.
Cavendish and the South African team, which still races as MTN-Qhubeka until next year, announced today that they would join forces for the 2016 season. The team already has a string of second-level sprinters with Tyler Farrar, Theo Bos, Kristian Sbaragli and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
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Everyone must now pull together to help Cavendish win or to achieve any of the team’s other aims, said team principal, Douglas Ryder.
“It will be like it was last year,” Ryder told Cycling Weekly. “We took our guys into the communities and townships, we said: If you are going to have egos and not work together, you are going to affect these individuals around you that have no sanitation or running water who are looking for anything to get ahead in life. Who are looking to live the dreams that you live every day on the bike.
“This is what you guys are racing for, this community and these people. You can put your egos on the pavement.”
Instead of taking money from Qhubeka, the team gives the charity exposure. The group awards bicycles to poor Africans in exchange for charity work such as growing 200 trees to 30 centimetres or collecting 4500 plastic bottles.
The unique team became the first professional African squad to start the Tour de France this year. As an added bonus, it won a stage on Nelson Mandela Day thanks to Brit Steve Cummings.
It remains African for 2016, with several big changes on the horizon.
Sponsor MTN is leaving this year, but information technology company, Dimension Data is joining as the title sponsor. Deloitte Consulting will also sponsor, a deal the team announced today before it confirmed that Cavendish’s arrival with long-time helpers Mark Renshaw, also from Etixx-Quick Step, and Bernhard Eisel, from team Sky.
Critics question weather Cavendish could clash with former rival, American Farrar or riders who have been trying to win on their own like Sbaragli and Boasson Hagan.
Ryder said that like the Highroad team, where Cavendish celebrated many of his wins including Milan-San Remo, Dimension Data will build a sprint train around its star but also support its other riders’ aims.
“We are going to be opportunistic, that’s what Cavendish loved about the team. He told me so the day we met after the Tour finished in Paris. Steve Cummings and others will also have their chances,” Ryder continued.
“And it’s not detracting from our African programme. It adds value. Riders like [Algerian] Youcef Reguigui want to ride for the best team. We just don’t want to offer our Africans a platform to use to reach the next level. Having Cavendish helps with that goal.”
MTN’s biggest sprint win in 2015, despite having several top riders, came thanks to Italian Sbaragli. He beat John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) to win the 10th stage of the Vuelta a España in Castellón last month.
Farrar’s best came via ninth in the Scheldeprijs, which Cavendish won three times, or seventh in the Tour de France’s seventh stage. Bos placed fifth in the Tour of Turkey stage one.
Matt Goss and Gerald Ciolek, former Cavendish team-mates at Highroad, are due to leave the team.
Farrar, Bos, Sbaragli, Boasson Hagan, and everyone else, will have to work for Cavendish assuming he is in form and ready to win. Eisel and Renshaw will help lead Cavendish’s charge.
Watch: Secrets of the toolbox – MTN-Qhubeka
“When you put that group together with the riders we have now, and Cavendish, it’ll be special,” Ryder added.
“When you bring Cavendish to the line, he is often in the top three. We need a top sprinter who can do that, he’s a different rider than Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar, who will get their chances in the classics et cetera.
“It’s complementary, even if there’s a potential for conflict here and there, but for the most part, everyone is super-happy Cavendish’s is joining and all agree that it gives us many more options.”