Tour de France: African rider 'will be on Tour podium in five years'
An African rider will stand on the podium at a Grand Tour within five years, says the boss of the continent's first team to race the Tour de France.
Team principal Doug Ryder has two Eritreans and three South Africans in his nine-man MTN-Qhubeka line-up at this year's Tour.
"This team, and Africa, can transform cycling," he told BBC World Service.
"We will have an African rider standing on the podium in a Grand Tour in the next three to five years."
A South African-sponsored team, Barloworld, took part in the 2007 and 2008 Tours and riders with African heritage - including Kenya-born Briton Chris Froome, who won the 2013 edition - have competed previously in the Tour de France.
But MTN-Qhubeka, based in South Africa since their creation in 1997 by former professional cyclist Ryder, is the first genuinely African team invited to participate, with this year's Tour starting on Saturday in Utrecht, in the Netherlands.
It includes the first Eritreans to take part - Daniel Teklehaimanot, 26, the best climber in last month's Criterium du Dauphine won by Froome, and his 21-year-old compatriot Merhawi Kudus, who completed the Vuelta a Espana last year.
|Did you know?|
|Qhubeka is a word from the language of the Nguni people of southern Africa that means "to carry on", "to progress", "to move forward". Qhubeka is a foundation that provides bicycles as a means of transport to underprivileged populations.|
Three South African riders - Louis Meintjes and the unrelated Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg - are supplemented by Briton Steve Cummings, Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, American Tyler Farrar and Belgian Serge Pauwels.
"We are not just here to make up the numbers, we are here to compete," Ryder insists.
"This team has earned its right to be in the Tour de France. They have risen out of the also-rans of the peloton and really shown that they are able to compete at this level.
"Our team will be a breath of fresh air for the Tour because cycling is not just a European sport, it's a sport that should be participated in by people all around the world.
"I can't tell you the level of support and interest we've had in Eritrea from the President down. This team will open the door for African riders to make this breakthrough into world cycling and that door will never be closed."
|African pioneers at Tour de France|
|1950||Marcel Molinès, a white Algerian and member of the North African French team, wins stage 13 at Nimes|
|2007||Robert Hunter, a white South African, wins stage 11 in Montpellier|
|2013||Daryl Impey, also a white South African, becomes first African to wear Tour leader's yellow Jersey after stage six. Kenya-born Briton Chris Froome follows two days later and goes on to win the race|
Ryder has been working on getting an African team into cycling's most prestigious stage race for a decade, and admits "it seemed like an insurmountable task".
"'Are you crazy? You must be smoking some cheap herb Doug, it's never going to happen,'" he recalls being told by the doubters.
But confirmation of the team's entry into the Tour finally arrived this year… via text message.
"Tour Director Christian Prudhomme sent me an SMS and I didn't have his number in my phone," he laughs.
"The message read 'Doug, welcome to the Tour de France, please call me'. I was like what? Really? You get an invite and this guy sends you an SMS… that's how you get told!
"But now we are here we are doing it and it's the realisation of a dream."