(Reuters) - Douglas Ryder could not contain himself when a text message popped up on his phone on Wednesday informing him that his MTN-Qhubeka team would become the first African-based cycle outfit to take part in the Tour de France.
The South African team were handed one of five wildcard spots for the 102nd edition of the fabled race that will start in the Netherlands in July.
“When I received a text message from (Tour de France director) Christian Prudhomme saying welcome to the Tour de France asking me to call him back, I simply could not contain myself,” Ryder told Reuters by email.
”I shouted to my wife and then things started going crazy. I have been waiting my whole life for this news.
“The pressure over the years of getting partners and riders to believe in this dream is finally a reality.”
MTN-Qhubeka will join the big guns of world cycling such as Spanish rider Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team and 2014 champion Vicenzo Nibali’s Astana outfit, who are among the 17 teams automatically qualified by the Union Cycliste International (UCI).
With a distinctive black and white striped kit, resembling that of Italian soccer club Juventus, MTN-Qhubeka are the largest professional multi-discipline team on the African continent and made their Grand Tour debut in last year’s Vuelta.
Ryder, whose team will also ride in the classic Criterium du Dauphine this year, said his cyclists will now be extra motivated as they continue with their training camps.
“I know our riders and staff will be the most motivated team in the world right now ahead of our second training camp,” he said. “We will not only ride in the Tour, we will compete and we will have the support of the whole continent behind us.”
The team’s rider list includes Eritrea’s 24-year-old Natnael Berhane, twice African champion, while several South Africans are also on the roster as well as riders from Rwanda and Algeria.
They have recently recruited Australian Matt Goss and Tour de France stage winners Tyler Farrar of the U.S. and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway.
The team, backed by South Korean electronics giant Samsung, helps to promote the work of the Qhubeka project which has distributed 50,000 bicycles to children in rural African communities since 2004.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris