Nationality: South African
2018 WT Ranking: Rock bottom
2018 WT major wins: La Vuelta Stages 4 & 9, Ben King
Riders to watch in 2019: Michael Valgren, Ben O’Connor, Louis Meintjes
Notable for: Mark Cavendish, “Africa’s Team”
KONM ISN’T SURE WHAT THE POINT OF THIS TEAM IS ANY MORE.
There’s an argument to be made that Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka have the strongest potential identity of any in the pro peloton. Being “Africa’s Team” is a robust statement: here we are, one team representing the hopes and dreams of an entire continent.*
*Albeit one that, on the whole, appears to care little about this pro cycling business. And rightly so. It’s nonsense after all.
Unquestionably, there’s an allure to this. DDD have a meaning; they’re not the usual bunch of petro-shills and shampoo-hawkers that comprises the rest of the World Tour. No, this team stands for something more than just the logo of whichever company is paying to have it emblazoned on their jerseys.
This is Africa’s Team. Africa’s Team. A team for Africa. That’s powerful. So where did it all go wrong?
Well, for a start, Africa’s Team could do with having a few more Africans in the team. Just 33% of the current roster hail from, you know, Africa.
Fair enough, you can’t just magic a host of ready-made African World Tour-standard riders into existence. Clearly, pro cycling has a massive problem with diversity in general, and it’s not DDD’s fault that the WT peloton is pretty overwhelmingly European and North/South American.
But you feel that, maybe, they could be doing more. Last year there were 13 African riders on the roster, while in 2017 there were 14 and, in 2016, 12.* This year: nine.
*These numbers not including trainees.
Thirteen to nine is a pretty big drop given the previous years’ variance, and it – perhaps – indicates that this is an outfit slowly becoming merely Team Dimension Data at the expense of being Africa’s Team.
This is a real pity. There are 17 other Team Dimension Datas in the World Tour, but there’s only one Africa’s Team.
What a missed opportunity it would be if this team was allowed to slide back into being just another billboard for an innocuous medium-sized company. (There’s no concrete evidence to suggest it is, by the way, KONM is very much reading between the lines here).
Africa probably doesn’t need (or care much about) pro cycling, but pro cycling definitely needs (and should care about) Africa. After all, if this project drifts away, it will be pro cycling’s loss, not Africa’s.
But anyway, there’s also the actual cycling to discuss and, funnily enough, there is in fact a reasonable amount about which to get excited in 2019.
For KONM, that’s mostly thanks to the arrival of Michael Valgren. Last year he won the Omloop HN and the Amstel Gold Race and finished fourth in the Ronde, despite the grave handicap of riding for Astana. He’ll be 27 by the time Classics season gets into gear, so you’d imagine he’s not far away from entering his peak, which can only be good news for DDD.
It’ll be interesting to see how Mark Cavendish holds up. He’s looked a man on the way out for quite some time now, but it’s not as if he’s particularly ancient. Only a madman would predict a return to form for him this year, but KONM hopes he can overcome his illnesses and find a few victories here and there.
Aside from those two, KONM will be keeping an eye on Ben O’Connor and Louis Meintjes. Received wisdom suggests O’Connor is one to watch, and may even make his mark at the Tour Down Under. You won’t find a claim here to know a great deal about him at this point, but over the coming months, well, I’ll let you know.
Meintjes, meanwhile, ticks all the Temperamental Climber boxes. He’s tiny, mercurial, and occasionally looks as if he’s about to burst into tears. Absolutely wonderful. KONM is a big fan, and considering he had a season to forget in 2018, things can (probably) only get better in 2019.
Shout out also to big Lars Bak, a Lotto legend now making his way elsewhere. Best of luck, Lars.
Featured photo: Marianne Casamance/Commons, edited by KONM