Week 94 (18 - 24 July 2015)
Every professional cycling team has an ulterior motive. Winning a race is only half of their job description: gaining exposure for their sponsors is just as important.
Take Agritubel for example: a "worldwide provider and manufacturer of tubular metal products" who theorised that a three-week bicycle race across rural France was an excellent way to advertise cattle pens to the agriculture industry. It's a neat communications idea, and from 2005 to 2009 Team Agritubel were one of the most prominent and well-loved mid-range teams competing in cycling's showpiece event, the Tour de France. Whether this translated into higher sales of Agritubel's products is a matter to take up with their finance officers – but the team and the brand certainly caught the eye.
This week's Communicator of the Week, MTN-Qhubeka have a different corporate mission in cycling: to mobilise change in Africa through bicycles. Qhubeka is the World Bicycle Relief's programme in South Africa and its decision to establish a professional cycling team in its name has propelled its cause onto the world's stage over the past three weeks. MTN-Qhubeka are the first African team to ever compete in the Tour de France – and they've taken the 2015 edition by storm. Out of 22 teams and with only two stages remaining, the team lie in second place overall – an incredible achievement for a debut team.
And collective glory aside, MTN-Qhubeka riders have shone individually with Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot wearing the iconic polka-dot jersey (indicating the race's best mountain climber) for three stages, becoming the first African to ever pull on the jersey in the process. And to rival that, Steve Cummings – one of the team's high-profile European signings – won stage 14 on Mandela Day with a stunning late surge, throwing his arms up in the air and giving the cameras a good dose of his MTN-Qhubeka colours.
The effect of the team's success has been keenly felt back in South Africa with the country's President Jacob Zuma conveying a message of congratulations to the team for their performance so far.
The long-term effect on cycling in Africa is, of course, unknown at this point but the name Qhubeka is now well-known throughout the cycling world, and you could even say the wider sports world, such is the popularity of the Tour de France. That is a huge achievement in itself and can only bode well for the future success of its projects and the people, mainly children, for whom it helps provide education, health and economic opportunities.
There is also an intriguing, although subsidiary, result of MTN-Qhubeka's presence in France these past few weeks: they've proved to the sometimes overly-serious cycling world that you can achieve resounding success on a bike with a permanent smile on your face.
Something which, as the team's chief Douglas Ryder puts it, all comes down to letting racers race. This week he told The Guardian:
"The vibe in the team [is good]; a lot of people seeing us laughing. We have staff from other teams looking at us, they want to come to our team – our riders have the freedom to perform."