African team says racist abuse won't detract from success

Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:33pm EDT
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(Note: strong language in the second paragraph)

By Julien Pretot

LIVAROT, France (Reuters) - The man who founded the first African team to race in the Tour de France said on Friday that racist abuse suffered by one of his riders in Austria this week could not deflect from its success in establishing Africa's place in world cycling.

MTN-Qhubeka team founder Douglas Ryder said Eritrean Natnael Berhane was upset at being called a "nigger" by Belarussian Branislau Samoilau as they raced alongside each other in the Tour of Austria on Wednesday, but had rejected suggestions he be disqualified.

"The Commissaires' Jury spoke to both riders and their teams," a spokesman for UCI, the international cycling body, said. "Everyone agreed that it was unacceptable, and the rider apologized and offered to donate one month's salary to team MTN-Qhubeka’s foundation."

MTN-Qhubeka's Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first black African to wear a leader's jersey at a grand tour when he claimed the polka dot jersey for best climber on Thursday's sixth stage of the Tour de France from Abbeville to Le Havre.

But celebrations were soured when news came through of Samoilau's comments to Berhane.

The incident was the talk of the peloton at the start of the Tour de France's seventh stage on Friday.

"Hopefully it was an isolated incident and although Natnael was pretty upset about it at the time, he is fine now," Ryder told Reuters. "It's sad that every conversation I have today is around racism and around being bullied in the peloton.   Continued...

Eritrean cyclist Natnael Berhane (L) and Adrien Niyonshuti of Rwanda lead fellow MTN-Qhubeka team team members during a training ride on the Spanish island of Mallorca January 24, 2015. 
   REUTERS/Enrique Calvo