Over the 25 years or so of being a cycling fan I have had many favourite riders who I have willed on during many different races. I have shouted with excitement when they’ve won and felt their pain in defeat. I have never been an avid follower of any cycling teams though. I liked ONCE and T-Mobile back in the day because they had a few of my types of riders but I have never been like the avid Belgium fans of either Quick-Step or Lotto or the Team Sky diehards.
When MTN-Qhubeka came onto my radar though I instantly thought that they were a team I could really get behind. That was in 2013 when they took a step up to Pro-Continental level and made an immediate impact when Gerald Ciolek won the snow effected Milan-San Remo that spring. What most impressed me about them was that they chose to have the name of a charity on their jersey’s, promoting the work of Qhubeka instead of receiving money from some corporate entity. Here is some information on how providing bikes for schoolchildren can help improve their lives as well as the education of third world countries.
In 2014 the team gained its first entry to a Grand Tour after getting a Wild Card for that years Vuelta. They put in a solid performance with all their riders finishing and Sergio Pardilla their top rider in 17th place to show they belonged in the biggest races on the calendar. At the end of the season their new General Manager Brian Smith announced some big name signings for 2015 such as Edvald Boasson Hagen and Matt Goss and that along with their showing in the Vuelta convinced ASO to give them a wildcard berth for the 2015 Tour de France.
Brian Smith introduced another aspect to the team for 2015 with made them more supportable for me, the distinctive black and white jerseys. I had hoped that fellow Paisley Buddie had got inspiration for the design from our local football team St Mirren but he admitted in an interview that he was thinking more along the lines of Juventus.
Going into stage 14 of the 2015 Tour de France MTN-Qhubeka could probably have already deemed the race a success. They had been prominent in breakaways and their rider Daniel Teklehaimanot had worn the polka dot jersey for four days to the delight of the many Eritrean fans at the roadside. They would have loved to get a stage though and had targeted the hilly stage to Mende. The fact that it fell on Nelson Mandela day was no coincidence.
The days terrain was perfect for a breakaway and a group of 20 riders eventually formed the main escape group. As they approached the final climb, the Côte de la Croix Neuve, it was obvious that the stage winner was going to come from them. Romain Bardet then Thibaut Pinot were first to attack up the tricky ascent and looked like they would contest the win. (They were allowed into the break after having tough races so far. Bardet was was over 17 minutes back on GC at the start of the day and Pinot worse still at 35 minutes). Steve Cummings seemed to get caught out by their attacks and the following counter moves but he was just playing it cool. He took the climb at his own pace to move into third position and when the two Frenchmen started playing with each other he had them in his sights.
As Bardet and Pinot came up to kilometer to go structure Cummings appeared as if out of nowhere, flew past them and created a small gap. With the run in being a slight descent that was all he needed as put his head down and powered towards the line. Victory was his and Qhubeka’s and more misery was added onto the bewildered French riders tours.
The big GC loser that day? Tejay Van Garderen who slipped down to 3rd overall.