By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Team Dimension Data have become the first African team to be awarded a license to compete on cycling’s World Tour, the sports governing body said on Wednesday.
The South African-based team, who were previously known as MTN-Qhubeka and had a wildcard entry to this year’s Tour de France, were named among seven granted first division licenses by the UCI.The others are Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (USA), Etixx-Quick Step (Belgium), Team Katsuha (Russia), Lampre-Merida (Italy), Lotto Soudal (Belgium) and Tinkoff of Russia.
There are now a total of 18 teams registered for the top tier of world cycling next year. Team Dimension Data also competed in the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) this year but it was in the Tour de France that they achieved unexpected success with a stage win, 13th overall for their Belgian rider Serge Pauwels and fifth in the team classification. They have safricaince signed Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Bernhard Eisel and done three new sponsorship deals. "This is incredible, I am so happy for this team, our partners and all the staff and riders that have worked so hard over the years to keep building this team to push beyond the boundaries and believe that anything is possible," said team principal Doug Ryder."To get this news on our training camp in Cape Town as we are bonding with our new team for the future is simply the best motivation to move forward into 2016."
The team were set up in 2007 to give African riders a team in which they could race in Europe, while simultaneously raising money for the African bicycle charity Qhubeka. They have raced as MTN-Qhubeka on the second-tier UCI Pro Continental tour since 2013, but looked to move up by signing more experienced riders. The team's owners will now set up a new sister team, which will race on the third-tier UCI Continental tour to continue to allow up-and-coming African riders to race in Europe.
(Editing by Rex Gowar)