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The Man Plotting How Africa Can Win The Tour De France

Doug Ryder’s African cycling team has transformed from lightweights to contenders at the world’s biggest race – the Tour de France.

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Doug Ryder says he nearly passed out when his cycling team got a wild card place at last year’s Tour de France.

But this July he will have all his wits about him as Team Dimension Data compete as a fully-fledged top division team, with realistic hopes of snagging stage wins and enjoying a spell in the leader’s yellow jersey, at the sport’s ultimate challenge.

Usually wildcards in the Tour make as much impact as a wildcard at Wimbledon. But last year MTN-Qhubeka (as they were known before a change in sponsor), were second, at a time, in the overall team classification. Daniel Teklehaimanot, one of the Eritreans in the team, wore the polka-dot jersey for several stages, as he became the first African to lead the mountain classification.

The team then trumped all of that by winning stage 14 on what Ryder calls “the Mandela Day stage”. The British journeyman Steve Cummings finished first on the anniversary of the former South African president’s birthday.

No longer a novelty, Ryder and his African side will be every bit a legitimate part of the Tour, now elevated to the status of the UCI World Tour – the equivalent of playing in the English Premier League.

To develop the footballing analogy, the team have been promoted rapidly through the leagues. It was only in 2013 that they were granted a place on the international circuit.

And in doing so they have captured the attention of the sport globally, making headlines across the world for what has been seen as an over-achievement for a group of riders most outside of the sport had never heard of before.

It has been a dramatic rise for a team built by a little known South African cyclist who has gone from trying to balance his own career with a job in IT to now effectively being the chief executive of a multi-million-dollar business.

Last year the team were operating with a budget of around $6.5 million. Now they are “well north of that that,” says Ryder as he seeks to compete with the best by signing the likes of Mark Cavendish, Nathan Haas and Omar Fraile to his team. Top cycling outfits, like Team Sky, have operating budgets estimated around $28 million.

Ryder, an energetic and effervescent 44-year-old from Cape Town, rode for South Africa at the Atlanta Olympics and three World Road Race Championships but never enjoyed the pampered existence of a professional in a major race team.

“Pretty much everywhere we went we had to make things happen for ourselves,” he says of his racing days.

So he built his own team, way back in 1997, going through a series of different names as he solicited sponsorship from the likes of Lotus Development, Microsoft, Energade and MTN.

“It was only when MTN came on board as sponsors in 2007 that is when it really started to take off. We wanted to first be the best team in South Africa, then Africa and then to try and take on the world,” says Ryder in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.

“I always wanted to do something uniquely different, to show the ability of the African continent. When I was racing in the late 90s and early 2000s as a professional in Europe, I didn’t get that many opportunities, cycling was really hard then and lot was going on in the sport. It was a bit like racing motorbikes.”

“So I came back to South Africa and said ‘let me start my own team and believe in taking African cyclists as far as they can go’.”

By 2013, the small operation had advanced to 21 riders and 25 staff, 70% of them from Africa. Riders from South Africa were joined by professionals from Algeria, Eritrea and Rwanda. Now, as they ride on the bigger stages, it is full of some of the sports top stars – notably the sprinter Cavendish, whose annual salary is in the $4 million range. Signing him was a massive publicity coup, almost as big a statement as their exploits in the inaugural Tour de France.

“He’s probably the biggest name in the sport. He loves that we are partnered with Qhubeka and what we stand for. It has created an incredible buzz in the team.”

Five years ago, Ryder added Qhubeka to the team name, handing an international profile to a non-profit organization who give bicycles to people in return for community service.

“There is a perception about bicycles in Africa and riding them. Some people would rather walk than ride a bicycle because they feel it shows they cannot afford a car. We’ve tried to make bike riding cool. If the bicycle becomes a cool thing that people want to have, then maybe we can mobilize this continent forward. But we need heroes to do so. And that was the theory, the method in the madness to put this team together,” says Ryder.

The Tour de France offers a massive worldwide profile again but since January, Team Dimension Data have ridden in all the World Tour events, from Australia to Spain, then Dubai and Qatar, Oman, Malaysia, Belgium and Switzerland. In August, they will be in the Vuelta a Espana (the Tour of Spain) and ride in Canada and then the Netherlands before the year is out.

It is a remarkable story of persistence and dogged determination, as Ryder spent much of last year just negotiating and seeking to secure a myriad of sponsors to elevate his Johannesburg-registered team into a proper international concern.

He remains the driving force behind the team and the key element in the success they have had to date with his passion to see the team not just compete, an achievement of his own, but win stages and, ultimately, races.

Never has any sports outfit from Africa made such a dramatic rise.

Now Ryder is able to take more of a hands-on role, planning to manage the team on a daily basis as the look forward to an exciting future.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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