For the first time, Tour organiser ASO included an African team, South Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka, on its invitation list. It also re-enforced a deal it made with Germany’s public television broadcaster, ARD, by naming German team Bora-Argon 18.
MTN will make history when it lines up in Utrecht for the start of the Tour on July 4, but ASO will be able to push its race’s charm through an entirely new continent.
The attention should easily spread through Africa’s countries with team MTN’s 2015 roster including a Rwandan, an Algerian and Eritrean cyclists. SuperSport and TV5Monde broadcast the Tour in Africa. TV5Monde’s free-to-air broadcast, in French, reaches 49 countries with 11.5m potential viewers.
“It’s the first time in history for an African team to be selected,” Prudhomme told France’s L’Equipe newspaper.
“Bernard Hinault saw Natnael Berhane and other young Eritreans for the first time in Gabon a few years ago. When he returned, he said, ‘They remind me of the Colombians in 1980, but must be given time to mature. When they are ready, they will be dangerous’.”
In its third year as a second division team, MTN includes 13 African cyclists like South African Louis Meintjes and Eritrean Merhawi Kudus. To re-enforce its roster this winter, it signed riders from first division teams. Tyler Farrar (from Garmin) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) have both already won Tour stages.
The number of first division teams with guaranteed invitations to race WorldTour races like the Tour decreased to 17 from 18 for 2015 and allowed Prudhomme to select five instead of four wildcard second division teams to reach 22.
The other four wildcard teams went to three French teams – Cofidis, Europcar and Bretagne – and one German team, Bora.
Bora raced in 2014 for the first time as NetApp-Endura. Its cyclist Leopold König rode to seventh overall and joined Sky for 2015.
There was other news in Germany. Over the winter, first division team Giant changed its licence from Dutch to German for 2015 with new shampoo sponsor, Alpecin. Its team boasts two talented and out-spoken German cyclists, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. Kittel sprinted to four stage wins in the 2014 Tour.
“I hope that [the UCI] will show strength with a decision that protects clean riders and underlines our call for a credible anti-doping fight,” Kittel wrote on Twitter in December.
“There can’t be any tolerance for a doping system especially like the one from the Padova investigation.”
ARD pulled its broadcast after the Jan Ullrich and Telekom doping scandals at home. It last aired the race in 2011.
The Tour organiser announced a new two-year deal for 2015 and 2016 with ARD this month. The Tour’s inclusion of Bora and having outspoken home cyclists like Kittel could have only underlined ARD’s decision to air cycling once again in Germany.