South African team MTN-Qhubeka received one of five wildcard invitations to the 2015 Tour de France, making it the first team from Africa to compete on cycling’s biggest stage. Race organizer Amaury Sport Organization announced on Wednesday the 22 teams that will race in 2015.
“For Africa and South Africa, it’s going to be huge,” MTN manager Brian Smith told VeloNews.
MTN first began racing as a Pro Continental team in 2013 and competed in its first grand tour last year. Since taking over as manager, Smith has bolstered the team by signing several first-division riders, including American Tyler Farrar, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Matt Goss, and Theo Bos, according to VeloNews. The squad also features promising African riders Louis Meintjes, Merhawi Kudus, and Natnael Berhane. Smith said in a winter meeting that his goals for MTN this year are to win a classic, a stage at the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España, and one of the classification jerseys at the Tour de France or Vuelta.
“[MTN’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.”
Team principal Doug Ryder received a text from Prudhomme welcoming the team to the Tour. “I always wondered how I would feel to hear the news, and it is simply indescribable,” Ryder said in a Cycling South Africa statement. “SA has this desperate need to create sporting heroes, and to get the love for the team and something different and new really is an incredible feeling.”
Other teams that received wildcard invites were Cofidis, Europcar, Bora-Argon, and Bretagne-Séché.