When they became the very first African cycling team to obtain a UCI World Tour license in 2016, the Qhubeka team seemed to be moving forward.
This high-performance team has competed on the world’s biggest stages, even claiming seven Tour de France stage victories, with Mark Cavendish wearing the yellow jersey on a Qhubeka bike in 2016.
But last year they lost their funding, and with it, License this would allow them to continue competing at World Tour status – the highest level in professional cycling.
The way back is money, says the team manager.
“We need a long-term funder, so we need funding and some time, but [if we get it]we would register a professional continental side, so that’s the second division, in 2023,” Doug Ryder told BBC Sport Africa.
“Then it would probably take us three years to get back into the World Tour, so the next opportunity for us to be back in the top division of cycling would be 2026.
“It’s just about getting sponsorship, so it’s about getting the right people together, then getting the money together to be able to get a second division license, and then getting back into the system in the ranking system. ”
Led by Ryder, Qhubeka’s focus on developing African cycling has given more than 55 African riders the opportunity to race among the best in the world.
This year, Qhubeka will participate in the UCI continental races in Europe, the third level of world cycling, with lead driver Nic Dlamini coaching his young teammates.
They also rush to help people through the Qhubeka charity, distributing bikes to communities across South Africa, but, even with their development and charitable aims, support has been hard to come by.
“I think the world is in a crazy place, with Covid,” he said.
“I think countries and companies have become very, very territorial, all looking for their own kind and their own environment. And Africa being economically and politically distressed, it was a real struggle for us in made to find this opportunity to gain a long-term support and funder behind the team.”
Despite the difficulty in securing funding, Ryder remains optimistic.
“The great thing about us is that we are incredibly relevant. Qhubeka is the official charity of the Tour de France, so we have a huge opportunity thanks to our uniqueness and having been the only African team at this level, and our history of seven Tour de France stage wins and the yellow jersey.”
Funding issues aside, Africa was touted as a future talent pool for cycling. Although a lack of sponsorship for professional teams like Qhubeka is an obvious obstacle, Ryder is doing its best to ensure that more young black African cyclists will be challenges at the top of the sport.
“We have absolutely opened the door for African cycling, and it will never close,” said Ryder.
“I honestly thought that after five years of working and creating these opportunities, we would have a podium rider and a big lap, but bringing riders to this European sport, different food, different roads. ability is there, the physical strength is there, but the technical skill takes years to develop.
“You don’t think the peloton is tough, but people are nudging each other and pushing each other. If you’re not good they kick you out and push you back so you can’t perform. “
Despite struggles to garner support and the long road back to the elite level of competition, Ryder remains positive about both his team’s potential and the corresponding charity’s reach.
“The two go together, so we’re much bigger than a cycling team,” he said.
“When you see children who have never received anything, they have a bike, they are mobile and they have this opportunity to be free and independent, it is the best day of your life. .”
And his ultimate dream?
“If we can find someone who started on a Qhubeka bike and ends up in the Tour de France, that will be the dream come true.”