Africans ready to embellish Tour landscape

Thu Jul 2, 2015 10:02pm EDT
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By Martyn Herman

UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) - When five African cyclists stood on a podium in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum in front of Rembrandt's masterpiece The Night Watch this week Douglas Ryder probably pinched himself.

Former Olympic cyclist Ryder is the man who a decade ago took on a small continental African team and dreamed of turning it into one capable of competing in the world's greatest races.

On Saturday, 50km down the road in Utrecht, nine men kitted out in the distinctive black and white striped jerseys of MTN Qhubeka will roll down the ramp for the start of a Tour de France adventure few believed possible.

The team, funded by a South African mobile phone giant, is the first from Africa to compete in the Tour having been handed a wildcard from cycling's governing body the UCI.

Hard-nosed cynics might sneer -- after all positive PR for a race tarnished by scandal down the years is priceless.

But accusations of tokenism would be grossly unfair to the ceaseless efforts of 42-year-old Ryder and the cyclists who will wear the colors of the Rainbow Nation on their backs on Stage 14 to mark Nelson Mandela Day.

In their ranks will be the first two Eritreans to compete in the Tour -- 21-year-old Merhawi Kudus, the youngest rider in the race, and national champion Daniel Teklehaimanot.

They will be joined by South Africans Jacques Janse van Rensburg, brother Reinardt and Louis Meintjes.   Continued...