The death of Douglas Ryder’s South African-registered World Tour team may have been greatly exaggerated after it was reported that there is a potential backer/s in the mix and staff have been on a recruiting drive for riders.
Cyclingnews.com reported on Monday about a “last-minute solution”, although there the identity of the sponsor has not been made clear. The site reports the budget will be low by WorldTour standards, just €8-million, but Ryder has become accustomed to working off the sniff of an oil rag and will be grateful that his dream of an African team may yet live on. The team’s current sponsor, NTT, confirmed in September they would not be renewing their contract at the end of the season, a decision that had been rumoured for some time.
As Cyclingnews.com reported, “…riders are being approached on the basis that they might race for around the minimum wage, which currently stands at 38,000 Euros for WorldTour riders”.
From the sounds of the recruiting process the backroom staff are apparently undertaking, this may be a return to the days when the team was Pro-Continental. Then called MTN-Qhubeka, Ryder, with Brian Smith as general manager, signed up team members some thought were past their best for the 2015.
American Tyler Farrar, a winner of stages in all three Grand Tours. Brit Steve Cummings, who had a 2012 Vuelta a Espana stage win to his name, added Tour de France stage victories in 2015/16. Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen had been regarded as the next great thing for much of his career, but after a poor 2013 and 2014, the then 27-year-old was left Team Sky for Ryder.
Germany’s Gerard Ciolek had been with the team since 2013 and had put them on the map with a dramatic victory in the Milan-San Remo that same year, earning them more wildcard entries to WorldTour races.
They were matched with young South African and African talent, some of whom made history in cycling. Songezo Jim would become the first black South African to take part in a WorldTour event, the Milan-San Remo in 2015. Louis Meintjes would go on to take 10th in the 2015 Vuelta, then left the team before finishing eighth in the Tour in consecutive years with Lampre-Merida.
Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot was 26 in 2015, having joined the team in 2014. In 2015, he became the first African rider to win a category jersey at a WorldTour race, when he took the King of the Mountains competition. At the 2015 Tour de France, Teklehaimanot became the first black African to wear a category jersey at La Grand Boucle.
In all, there were 14 Africans on the team, nine of them South African. That number has declined over the years as the team brought in European talent in the search for victories to appease sponsors. With the uncertainty around the future of the team, some riders have already left. Last week, Dane Michael Valgren announced he would be going to EF Pro Cycling. Australian Ben O’Connor has signed for French outfit AG2R and Ryan Gibbons, the current South African champion, will move to UAE-Emirates.
Domenico Pozzovivo, the European and Italian champion, Max Walscheid and Victor Campenaerts, the holder of the world hour record on the track are contracted for next year. Pozzovivo has been one of the more hopeful of the riders and on Monday told Cyclingnews.com: “It’s not 100 percent, but today or in the next day we’ll have confirmation that the team will be here next year. We’re just waiting for the confirmation and if the team continues then I’ll stay. I think it will be WorldTour next year and I’m optimistic and confident in Douglas Ryder. He is doing the maximum and it’s not easy to find sponsors. I don’t know exactly who the sponsor will be.”
The team’s spokesperson was contacted for comment, but said they would not be commenting on the speculation, but intimated that there were moves afoot that could see the survival of the team.