What future for the African team Qhubeka-NextHash?

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On September 30, unable to find enough sponsorship funds to meet the October filing deadline for the UCI WorldTour 2022, Qhubeka-NextHash team director Doug Ryder released his riders from their contractual commitments. towards the team. Several quickly joined other teams, including the best riders Victor Campenaerts back to Lotto-Soudal and Giacomo Nizzolo at Israel Start-Up Nation. Meanwhile, Ryder continues to struggle to find new sponsors and keep the South Africa-based team afloat at WorldTour level.

Ryder spoke with The outer line October 20, outlining the situation and the team’s plans. “We have been working essentially without interruption since September 2019 [when title sponsor NTT pulled out] to secure our longer-term future, ”says Ryder. “We fought to meet the challenges of COVID and we were able to bring new partners to the team. We didn’t quite meet the October 15 deadline, but we are in extensive discussions with a few partners and are optimistic about our ability to stay at the WT level.

Nizzolo ahead of the Paris-Roubaix 2021 departure (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Ryder says the UCI has been flexible and very supportive of keeping the team at WT level, especially with the recent announcement that the UCI road world championships will be held on African soil in 2025, and given the decisive record of the team in the promotion of African cycling and the development of high-level African talents, sometimes with recruits racing for the UCI World Cycling Center development team.

With its long-standing commitment to Qhubeka (the African Cycling Charity) and its focus on training and developing African riders, the Ryder team has always had a unique position and purpose compared to the rest. of the professional cycling community. “We try to measure ourselves by our ‘return on impact’ – not just our return on investment or our ‘return on ego’ like some of the other teams,” said Ryder. “It is part of our heritage and our Ubuntu culture — ‘I am, because we are.’ “

Ryder continued. “I was with [IOC president] Thomas Bach earlier this year, and he thanked us for being the only Premier League team in any Olympic sport on the African continent.

Although the team is currently at the foot of the UCI team rankings, they have enjoyed their moments of success in competition, challenging this oft-repeated but not entirely accurate maxim that money is everything in professional cycling. . Despite one of the lowest budgets in the WorldTour, Ryder teams have achieved notable success over the years. Earlier this season, Campenaerts, Nizzolo and Mauro Schmid all had unexpected stage victories in just one week at the Giro d’Italia. Ryder thinks the team has had a pretty good driver development program, although there isn’t a lot of credit for it. “We hit well over the weight,” he said.

So, given the unique mission and philosophy it brings to the WorldTour and its record of competitive success, it seems odd and undeserved that the team is having such a hard time finding sponsors. [The experience seems akin to that of Bob Stapleton’s once highly successful High Road team that, despite a dedication to clean cycling and good success on the road, was ultimately unable to find sponsorship after the 2011 season.] Ryder noted that the team had enjoyed MTN as a sponsor for eight years, while telecommunications giant NTT was with the team for six years. “We have had good and more lasting partnership agreements, but we have obviously suffered in the last two years,” he said. However, in addition to COVID making sponsorship research more difficult, Ryder highlights the growing visibility and sponsorship opportunities that global companies have in other areas of entertainment, including online games and music.

Ryder says he bemoans the inaccurate media reporting on the team’s financial situation and the plight of sponsors that didn’t help matters. Regarding questions about controversial sponsor NextHash, Ryder admitted some ups and downs, but indicated that many of the recent media speculation about the viability of this business is inaccurate and damaging to the team. “The company [NextHash] went through the full review process with the UCI and they are currently doing what they are committed to doing, ”he said.

In terms of the minimum budget needed to support a team in the WorldTour, Ryder said, “Well you have 27 runners, say with an average salary of $ 100,000, so there is $ 2.7 million. Then it costs around $ 4-5 million in operating costs to handle logistics and team management. So I would say an absolute minimum level would be around $ 6.5 to $ 7 million.

For reference, there are probably a few second tier ProTeams that operate with budgets approaching this size, but they generally employ fewer runners and at lower wages. “There are some very good and honorable teams operating at the ProTeam level, and we have had discussions with some of them,” said Ryder. “In some ways they might be a perfect fit for us, but we don’t have anything in the works at the moment. There are also rumors linking the team to Canadian sponsor Premier Tech, who recently severed ties with the Astana team and is reportedly looking for a new team to support. According to Ryder, Premier Tech has decided to “take a sabbatical” and sit down to consider its options.

The Qhubeka Nexthash team may need over $ 7 million for its annual operating budget. (Photo: Alex Livesey / Getty Images)

Ryder believes the road worlds slated for 2025 in Rwanda could be a transformative moment for African cycling. “All sports begin with an iconic event that takes place locally, that drives people to get involved, that opens doors. When you organize an event like this in Africa and people can see it and feel it, it will generate tremendous interest and help us develop greater talent. “

Despite the challenges, Ryder projects confidence that he will be able to raise the funds to keep the team alive. Although he has already lost a few top riders, he is confident he can find talented riders even at this late date. “There are so many young talents out there. This younger generation is much more aggressive. If we give them the chance, they will raise their hands. Of course, we are very sad to lose Campenaerts, Nizzolo and [Fabio] Aru [who has retired], but we will find new talent. Ryder is very candid that time is running out for his team. “At the end of the day, we have until around mid-November to put things in place,” he said.

“It will be a very sad day if this team cannot survive,” added Ryder. “Maybe we’ve been a little ahead of our time, but I think we’ve done some amazing things; a lot of teams talk about things but we actually do them. We have always been consistent in terms of the message – how bikes can affect Africa. We wanted to reach the highest level… and bring African runners to the highest level. But at the end of the day, Ryder concludes, “This sport is not all about the money. Money helps, but the passion is in you. We can be successful at this level without big bucks. “


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