The second and final rest day is arrived yesterday, and not a moment too soon! Soaring temperatures, difficult parcours and some teams becoming progressively more desperate for a result have made this one of the hardest Tours in recent memory. Tyler Farrar, our most experienced grand tour rider, agrees with this opinion. He also revealed that he can’t remember feeling this good and relatively “fresh” on the second rest day of a Tour. It is signs such as this that reveal how the years of planning and our careful build-up to The Tour are bearing fruit.
Where do I start when trying to describe the achievements of this amazing team over the past week? Our performance goals coming into this tour were ambitious to say the least. And yet, we have achieved and exceeded almost all of those goals with the final week to come. On 18 July 2015, Mandela Day, the team achieved its biggest victory yet as Steve Cummings crossed the line solo to take the win on stage 14. It was a fascinating and exciting finale as Steve outfoxed the French favourites with 500m to go. Steve told me after coming close to a breakaway win at the Criterium du Dauphiné, that he would win a stage from a breakaway at The Tour de France. Steve has always believed that he had the ability to achieve this; the difference was that our team believed it too and allowed him the freedom to ride conservatively until his opportunity came. His five-fingered Qhubeka victory salute was the icing on the cake and I’d like to think that Madiba himself would have enjoyed the victory.
Louis Meintjes, Serge Pauwels and Edvald Boassen Hagen have all had top 5 finishes over the past few days and yesterday Daniel Teklehaimanot netted 7th place. We have won the team prize for the past 2 stages, increasing our tally to 3 team stage victories and moving us to 2nd spot overall in the team classification! Serge Pauwels has steadily climbed the individual general classification and now sits in 15th place. The magnitude of these achievements is simply staggering, especially considering the humble and relatively recent beginnings of the first and only African pro-continental team.
Louis’ 5th place on stage 12 was a particularly impressive and brave performance. He was part of an elite breakaway that would make it all the way to the line when, on a wet and twisty descent, he crashed hard onto his right side. Louis could be seen to jump up immediately and get back on his bike. Somehow, he made it back to the group within minutes and would leave many of his breakaway compatriots behind on the final climb. Only upon meeting him just behind the finish line did I realise the extent of his injuries. Louis had left a good deal of skin out on the course. His right knee, hip area, and shoulder were ripped and bleeding as was the right side of his ribcage with some nasty bruising developing right before my eyes. Thankfully he did not sustain any serious injuries but the patch-up job on the team bus was a long and painful one for Louis who flinched often but never complained. Thanks to ongoing care, excellent nutrition and being allowed to take it “easy” in the peloton for the past few stages, Louis is almost completely recovered. Don’t be too surprised when you see our young South African superstar going on the rampage in the Alpine stages!
The medical care and monitoring which we provide for our athletes would not be possible without the financial support of our medical partner, Emvit. The nutritional products that they provide to our team have also had an important role in the nutritional strategy which is allowing our athletes to rapidly recover from the strain of their efforts as well as their injuries. Only 4 out of 22 teams are still left with 9 riders! As a medical team, we are really proud to be one of those teams and our goal is to get all 9 athletes safely to Paris.
The support coming from back home has been spectacular; the feedback and social media engagement really helps to keep our athletes motivated. Our biggest goal of all requires you, as members of the public to help us achieve. Bicycles really do change lives and we want to raise 5.000 bicycles to mobilise African people through our charity partner, Qhubeka. Head to www.bicycleschangelives.com and donate to help us achieve this lofty goal.
I hope that watching our team has inspired many people to head out on their bikes for their daily dose of fresh air and the miracle pill that is physical exercise. Keep watching, the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées is just around the corner!
Allez Team MTN Qhubeka!