BAGNÈRES-DE-LUCHON, France (VN) — Team Dimension Data could already leave the Tour de France happy with four stage wins in the first week. Mark Cavendish sprinted to three and Friday, Steve Cummings attacked to take the fourth. Life is good for the South African team.
Team boss Doug Ryder smiled as journalists and cyclists passed Saturday morning at the start of stage 9 in Pau. His team bus — white with touches of green to match information technology company Dimension Data’s colors — sat at the front of a long line of 22 buses on the road leading to the start village. His Eritrean riders Daniel Teklehaimanot and Natnael Berhane stepped off the bus, followed by Cummings. Cavendish, the superstar with 28 career wins in the Tour, usually comes off last.
“It’s amazing,” Ryder said. “Cavendish won three out of the first four sprint stages. Steve went out and won a stage that he had focused on. What team wouldn’t want that?”
Cummings rode off to the sign-in podium and spoke to television journalists. Last year, after Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the polka dot jersey of the king of the mountains, Cummings gave the then-second division team its first stage win in the Tour.
Ryder began the team with backing from African telecommunications company MTN after he stopped racing and with the goal of helping the Qhubeka charity supply bicycles to poor Africans to improve their lives.
In 2013, it set up shop at the Pro Continental level with a base in Lucca, Italy. Gerald Ciolek gave the team its first WorldTour win in Milano-Sanremo. The following year, after trying to get the team in the 2014 Giro d’Italia, Ryder secured a spot for the team’s grand tour debut in the Vuelta a España.
Brit Steve Cummings then went out and beat France’s top two general classification riders at last year’s Tour stage in Mende on Nelson Mandela Day. Times were good.
Ryder raised the stakes for 2016 by signing Mark Cavendish and joining the WorldTour. The pressure appeared high on the team in its second grand tour to match the 2015 successes.
“No, it wasn’t. We already won when we signed Mark,” Ryder said.
Once the South African starts talking, he goes like Cavendish in a sprint.
“When he signed, the donations to the Qhubeka charity went four-fold just because of the presence of that guy. In our team, 50% of the focus is on the bike and 50% is off the bike. Only 50%! The other teams have 100%. If you don’t win, then you have no value. That was already a win for us because of the charity.”
Many followers, however, wrote off the 31-year-old Brit. They said that he would be lucky to win once given his lack of victories in the last two seasons, the emergence of several other sprinters, and his desire also to race the track in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Once Cavendish won his first stage in Utah Beach, and wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, the possibilities rapidly increased. He won another on day three in Angers on day three and a third in Montauban on day six.
“We still have to unleash Edvald Boasson Hagen and Cummings is aiming for two more stage wins,” Ryder said. “If you see the morale on the bus, everyone thinks it’s possible now. Our team has become really dangerous.”