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30 Mar, 2015

Feeding Frenzy

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With big wins at the 2014 Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge and the 2015 SA National Under 23 Road Race, the MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team has its sights firmly set on further big wins in the local racing scene. We took a road trip to Potchefstroom earlier this year to find out what makes this team “tick”.

As he got out of his car, team principal JP van Zyl had a glint in his eye. It was easy to recognise as many people in the South African cycling scene have similar glints.

Simply put, the glint is a manifestation of a passion for the sport. And a passion that drives his charges to the top steps of race podiums.

And, with his impressive history of coming fifth at the Olympics and second at the World Championships during his own racing career during the 1990s, there is absolutely no reason why the latest crop of African riders at MTN Qhubeka cannot follow the footsteps of other riders who have worn the distinctive yellow and black kit.

“When I finished my racing career,” JP smiled, “I thought, you know what? I want to see African athletes get the fair chance that they deserve to be in international competitions.”
Now where have we heard that before?

“As you know, Douglas Ryder and I go back a long time and were at the 1996 Olympic Games together. We share the same mission and vision and passion to see cyclists go from nothing to something. Our dream was always to actually have a team of African riders in the Tour de France.”
So, with this mission fast becoming a reality, thanks to Doug’s huge success with the pro continental team receiving a wild card entry into the Tour de France, JP has always had a strong group of young riders itching to get into the MTN Qhubeka pro continental team and it was this drive that eventually led to the creation of the MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team.

“Doug managed to find the right sponsors and we were able to create this opportunity to have a feeder team,” he explained.

“I’ve got the Feeder Team riders here looking at all those riders who passed through our system and now race at the pro continental team and they know that at least two of them will be riding the Tour de France this year. So that helps me to motivate them. It motivates me,” JP’s eyes glint again.
Situated in Potchefstroom, the MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team has a house where the team live, where their bicycles are stored and maintained and where some of them, like young Nicholas Dlamini, are studying.

And there are rules in the house too, with JP insisting on a ban of all junk food, alcohol or other substances that might detract from their performance as a team.

Each room is boldly marked with the names of its occupants: Jayde Julius, Stefan de Bod, Clint Hendriks, Oliver Stapleton-Cotton and Gustav Basson have all made a huge impact on the local racing scene. Some of them with their previous teams but others, like Oliver who supported Till Drobisch in his 2014 Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge victory, with the MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team.
When asked whether it was a bit like Big Brother, the riders who were in the house at the time of Modern Cyclist’s visit laughed.

Oliver commented: “It’s still early days. I think everyone has yet to get on each other’s nerves as everyone does stay together. I’m enjoying it. Having you guys in the house now, it’s a different vibe [to last year]. I’m enjoying it.”

“You make your own fun,” said Stefan, “if you don’t make your own fun in the house, then it doesn’t work.”

Speaking about his, and the rest of the team’s goals, Stefan continued: “I want to make it in the big league. To get to pro tour level and compete there. Against all the best guys in the world. That is the dream we are chasing.”

Having riders like Nic Dougall who used to live in the house but are now competing for the MTN Qhubeka pro continental team certainly acts as huge motivation.

“It shows that it is within reach and it’s not impossible at all,” Oliver commented. “We were racing with Nic last year. So each and every one of us have got the chance and the opportunity to make it into the MTN Qhubeka pro continental team. This is the right set-up to be in, in this country. So we get motivated.”

Jayde commented futher: “Ja, there is a standard you need to uphold. There is pressure. But without pressure, you can’t become a winner. It’s actually motivating that there is pressure for you to succeed or to do better.”

Regarding Till’s Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge victory last year, Oliver was one of the supporting riders that contributed to the team winning that race.

“There was a lot of pressure on us, but also pressure to finish off the season on a high. Because you know, 947 has got a lot of media exposure and there have been a lot of second places, so we definitely wanted to end the season on a high. I think everyone was really stoked.

“It was the first time I’d ridden the race. So I didn’t really know what to expect. I think it was a lot easier in the break than sitting in the bunch. I think in the bunch it would have been a bit tougher on those climbs,” he concluded.

When asked what they are looking forward to for the coming year, the new riders on the team were unanimous.

“Winning!”

Previously mentioned Nic won the 2014 Tour de Boland, so the MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team have certainly got something to look forward to for this year’s event.

“No pressure guys!” quipped Clint.

Living in the same house together, day in and day out, also has the advantage that the various team members get to know each other very well and get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well.

“Normally the younger guys,” jokes Clint, “they are the domestiques and they clean the house too!”
The whole team laughed.

“Seriously though,” Clint responded, “No, no, no. Seriously, everybody has a fair role to play and it’s, you know, when you live with six guys, or the full team in the house, it’s also reflected in the race.”
The joking around prompted the next question, who is the joker who pulls all the pranks? The answer was easy to see as all fingers pointed directly at Clint.

“Why you all pointing at me?” he sniggered.
Clint, Jayde and Gustav all confirmed that they have fun as professional cyclists, “otherwise why would we do it?”, and that they get to travel a lot but that it can get a little stressful.

Since the announcement of the Tour de France wild card entry, the Feeder Team riders have had some pretty interesting comments from the people they meet.

“It’s actually funny,” says Clint, “because people think we are going to the Tour de France.”
Oliver continues by saying he has been asked by people whether he’ll actually ride the world’s most famous cycling event.

“I have to tell them to relax because we are the Feeder Team and it’s only a squad from the pro Continental team who will actually compete in France.”

The Feeder Team members are possibly as stoked as Doug Ryder himself on the entry.
“It’s putting the brand out there,” explained Clint, “more, like maybe 40% more awareness than what it was last year, so it’s going to explode.”

Jayde picks up the conversation: “And it shows that we are moving forward, because they [the pro continental team] are moving forward. Like they are making progress. And it’s like Doug, he is getting and achieving his goal. It’s really good for everyone in cycling in South Africa.”
“I think all the cycling will pick up again for everyone in South Africa. I mean a South African team riding the Tour. Everyone is now interested in cycling. It makes the whole cycling industry bigger in South Africa now,” Jayde commented.

The riders from MTN Qhubeka Feeder Team are in no doubts that they are in for some serious competition.

“I reckon Abantu is our biggest competition,” said Clint, “because they just signed HB Kruger and they have obviously got a bit of depth now. HB is really strong.”

The future looks good for both MTN Qhubeka teams, both in the local racing scene and duelling with the best in the world on the pro continental tour in Europe. But this success takes more than just hard work and dedication as a glint in the eye also seems to be a requirement.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor