Cape Town - Team MTN-Qhubeka is preparing itself for its second Grand Tour of the 2015 season.
Like last year the team travels to La Vuelta with high hopes - and an exceptional team that features no less than seven African riders.
Reigning Eritrean road race champion Natnael Berhane and Tour de France stage winner Steve Cummings are spearheading the line-up, with the latter being one of the two riders on the team that hail from Europe.
African road race champion Louis Meintjes was forced to withdraw from Le Tour due to illness but has fully recovered and makes his return to Grand Tour racing when he rolls to the start in Marbella on August 22.
The trio will be accompanied by Jay Thomson, Jaco Venter and Kristian Sbaragli who were all part of last year's La Vuelta team. Youcef Reguigui, Songezo Jim and Johan van Zyl will make their Grand Tour debut.
Apart from bringing seven African riders to Spain the team continues to make history. Reguigui, winner of the Tour de Langkawi 2015, will be the first Algerian to take part in the race. Furthermore, Songezo Jim will be the first South African of color to ride in a Grand Tour.
The team’s sporting goals for the race are similar to the ones at the Tour de France with a stage win and wearing a special jersey being the main objectives. In addition to that MTN-Qhubeka will further drive its #BicyclesChangeLives campaign to help putting 5 000 children on bikes.
From the start in Marbella the race will head to the North East of Spain, before turning West. After 21 stages the race will conclude on September 13 in Madrid.
“This team is about opportunities. We wanted to give most of our riders the opportunity to ride a Grand Tour this year. After our success in the Tour de France we want to keep up with the same momentum in our goal of raising 5 000 bikes for children in Africa. We are going to La Vuelta with the same goals as the Tour de France and the team has been selected to obtain these goals. Berhane and Meintjies will shine in the mountains. Sbaragli and Reguigui will battle in the sprints. We will look at opportunities for Cummings, Jim, Thomson, Van Zyl and Venter. All riders have proven to us that they are motivated to fly the team flag high over the three weeks of La Vuelta,” said MTN-Qhubeka's General Manager Brian Smith.
“In our second year at La Vuelta we will have seven African riders to represent MTN-Qhubeka. Our strategy will be very similar to the one at the Tour de France, where we focused more on the stages than on the GC. With two riders onboard who raced in France - our Golden Boy Steve Cummings who took the stage on Mandela Day, and Louis Meintjes - as well as seven riders that specifically prepared themselves for La Vuelta in the last few weeks, I am sure we can live up to this goal. We feel extremely humbled to come back to La Vuelta and to get the chance to promote our cause of putting 5 000 children in Africa on bikes through the way we race,” Head Sports Director Jens Zemke commented.
“I am happy to start my second La Vuelta. As Eritrean champion I will have the chance to represent my country and Africa. I hope to ride a good race and to continue where I left off in Utah. The team is well rounded and I think we will continue to keep the African, and in my case also the Eritrean fans proud,” remarked rider Berhane.
1. Natnael Berhane
2. Steve Cummings
3. Songezo Jim
4. Louis Meintjes
5. Youcef Reguigui
6. Kristian Sbaragli
7. Jay Thomson
8. Johann van Zyl
9. Jaco Venter