MILAN (VN) — Africa will continue to exist at the top level of cycling in 2016 and beyond. MTN-Qhubeka boss Doug Ryder said the future of his team “is secure” despite South African telecommunications company MTN pulling its sponsorship after a successful Tour de France.
The South African team made history in July. It became the first professional African team to participate in the Tour, its Eritrean cyclist Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the polka-dot jersey, and Brit Steve Cummings won the team’s first Tour stage in Mende.
Ryder could not have hoped for more. He even points out that seven of his nine riders placed in the top 10 in a stage over the three weeks of racing. But before his flight from Paris to Johannesburg landed, the party streamers and confetti had been blown away by MTN.
“They blasted the message out there,” Ryder told VeloNews.
“That’s not the way we would’ve liked to have done it.”
MTN, which changed its South African CEO in mid-July, released a statement Wednesday that said not reviewing its contract was “normal business practice.”
It read, “Our partnership with the team has come full circle and we wish the team the absolute best in the future as we pass on the baton to the next sponsor.”
MTN’s agreement was due to end after this year, so Ryder had already been talking to his current sponsors and potential new ones during the Tour. Several of its secondary sponsors like Samsung and Dimension Data could step up to become the title sponsor for 2016 and beyond.
Dimension Data, which collected and supplied real-time data of cyclists during the Tour, began backing the team on July 1. Several reports say the South African software company could become the new sponsor and take over the team’s name, but Ryder explained that talks with companies are ongoing.
“In the next two or three weeks, we will announce the sponsor,” he said.
“Will the Tour help? The Tour de France was huge for the team, huge for African cycling, and huge for Africa. Steve’s win on Nelson Mandela Day had a major impact.”
The impact equated to the South African equivalent of $5.12 million worth of exposure in South Africa. With such a reach, a sponsor should be eager to head the team into its next chapter.
“But we will remain ‘sponsor name-Qhubeka’ next year. It will stay our team’s charity,” added Ryder. “And we will remain South African.”
Instead of giving money, Qhubeka gains exposure from the team. The non-profit group gives bicycles to poor Africans in exchange for work such as growing 200 trees to 30 centimeters or collecting 4,500 plastic bottles.
The only change is that MTN leaves after nine years of title sponsorship, including seeing the team into the Pro Continental ranks and through the 2014 Vuelta a España and the 2015 Tour de France on wildcard invitations.
“My gut feeling is that we will not apply for a WorldTour license,” Ryder added.
“We will likely stay in the second division for 2016. We’ve done everything on a step-by-step basis, and the next step will need some time and planning.
“It was a big move in the professional continental division, and we need to make sure we are stable before going up to the WorldTour. Other teams have come and gone from the WorldTour, or are there now and not doing so well.”
The team keeps rolling through 2015. It has the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the Vuelta a España, and the Tour of Britain on the horizon. Between making management decisions, Ryder must also find time to sign a new sponsor agreement.
He added before returning to tend to several tasks, “The team will stay unique, African and alongside the Qhubeka charity.”