A title sponsor of the African cycling team that made a storming debut at this year's Tour de France, announced yesterday it will end its agreement with MTN-Qhubeka.
Team MTN-Qhubeka, this year's Tour wildcard team and the first African team of recent Tours, wowed audiences as Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimenot became the first African to wear the King of the Mountains jersey, which he held for four days, while Brit Steve Cummings won stage 14 on Mandela Day, 18 July. MTN-Qhubeka led the team race for some time, coming fifth overall at the end of the three weeks.
Telecommunications company MTN, which invested $9.5m in the team since 2013, said it is scaling back investments amid "tough market conditions".
The company's group corporate affiars executive, Chris Maroleng, told Times Media: “Considering … the tough operating environment in the telecommunications industry we’ve really had to reassess‚ not just the Qhubeka sponsorship‚ but a number of other engagements we feel don’t have a return on that investment at the levels of comfort to us.”
MTN-Qhubeka team principal Doug Ryder is reported as surprised by the announcement‚ but said the future of the team was secure.
“The team has many options going forward‚ huge interest as you can imagine‚ so the future of the team is incredible. There’s no issues there,” he said.
The team's Belgian rider, Serge Pauwells came 10th overall in the Mountains classification, while the team's other Eritrean rider, Merhawi Kudis, this year's youngest Tour rider, at 21, came 10th in the young riders' white jersey standings.
MTN-Qhubeka used its profile at the Tour in an attempt to raise enough money for 5,000 bikes for children in South Africa where the bicycle can make a huge difference by helping people access schools, medical facilities and employment opportunities.