INTERVIEW: Doug Ryder, the dreamer

The affable Doug Ryder is nothing short of a South African cycling legend.

A prodigious talent as a racer his career highlights include captaining the SA national team from 1993 to 2002, winning the Boland Bank Tour in 1995, winning the 2001 Cape Argus Cycle Tour, representing South Africa multiple times at the World Championships and the Olympic Games. A phenomenal bike racer of a bygone era, however, his role as team principal of Africa’s first ever registered World Tour Cycling Team surpasses his pedaling prowess, by miles.

As a young racer, Doug dreamed of creating an African team to take to the European & World circuit, to compete and contest race wins against the biggest outfits and best riders. At the time, there were those here in South Africa who had their doubts about Doug’s dream. Doubts which were in no way due to a disbelief in Doug’s dogged determination, rather, stemming from a deeper understanding of the goliath task at hand. To be fair, at the time, it truly was an impossible undertaking.

Fast forward to 2019 and the team he has created is not only loved by the fans, nations and riders, it is pursued by global business partners seeking to align with winners and what they stand for.

Doug has achieved the unimaginable and serves as an inspiration to all.

He brings the perfect blend of passion and an understanding of what it’s like to be a racer in the pro peloton, to the business of owning and running a global outfit.

Ahead of the 2019 season we caught up with him to talk Spring Classics, Grand Tours, new partnerships and where the team’s focus will be.

BN: Doug, you have had a phenomenal career in cycling both as a rider and now as a Team Principal. Wind the clock back for us and flesh out the journey a little…

I guess it started in 1996 with a dream of wanting to take an African team to the Tour de France. I worked in corporate for 11 years, in IT, in 2007 I was working full time on this team and MTN joined us as a partner. This was a significant boost to our resources and they believed we could achieve something significant here in Africa.

We quickly became the best team in South Africa, then Africa. Then it was time to take on the rest of the world and that happened in 2012 when Samsung joined us as a partner.

Now we have done four Tours de France.  At the end of 2015 when we rode the Tour de France for the first time we were the number one ranked second division team in the world and then got offered an opportunity to race in the world tour in 2016. To date we have done four Tours de France.

A historic day for Doug’s team as Steve Cummings wins stage 14 of the Tour de France, on Mandela day.

BN: Was there any particularly pivotal moment when you realized that you had achieved something special in those years, or was it more an accumulation of all the results?

Yes, that pivotal moment for sure was Steve Cummings winning a stage at the Tour de France on Mandela Day. The interest and love shown towards us from [new] people that came to watch our team race had never been seen by the Tour de France before. Our impact was tangible. Then at the end of that Tour de France Mark Cavendish’s agent got hold of me and said: “There is a guy [Mark Cavendish] sitting in Paris for a day and would like to meet to discuss joining your team.” Mark is one of the all-time best sprinters in the Tour de France and having him join our team was another significant moment for us.

Then in 2016 in our second Tour de France we won more stages than any other team, four of them coming in the first week, no other team has done that and we continued to ride that wave into 2017 with more wins.

Mark Cavendish, one of the all time greats of the bunch sprint is one of many big names on the squad for 2019.

BN: How was the 2018 season for you and more importantly what goals and ambitions does the team have for the next few seasons?

Yea 2018 was a really really tough year. Moving on, I think we have built an amazing team for the future and we have big dreams and aspirations for 2019 and 2020.

We want to do things that have never been done before and to take an African rider to the podium of the Tour de France.

BN: Tell us about your partners for 2019

Dimension Data has been a great partner for us and we will continue with them for another two years. They really believe in our dream and in making a big impact and are fully supportive. We have signed a new partner in Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise a French company that is 100 years old. They are also a tech company which is great because cycling is a tech heavy sport and we look forward to working with them to do things better – there is so much data in cycling and with the right tech you can make better decisions.

BMC has come on board as a new bike partner and we are incredibly happy to have them. We also have Assos, a clothing company and Mercedes Benz joining us. Vida E Caffe joins us as our coffee partner.

There is a lot of excitement about the move to Swiss power house BMC.

BN: We believe you to be one of the most under-celebrated heroes of South African cycling. Tell us about where you get your motivation and what keeps you ticking? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Where does all this passion come from?

I was very fortunate to get introduced to cycling when I was young. When I was 13 years old I would ride 40km to and from school every day, so the bicycle gave me freedom and independence and changed my life and I wanted to do the same for others.

As a racer I could never get to the Tour de France and so I decided I wanted to run a team at the highest level and at the same time to try mobilize kids on bikes. We have done a huge amount with the Qhubeka charity but what motivates me and drives me every day is when I look in the eyes of the rider and they believe that it’s possible to do something significant.

When Rehnard Janse van Rensburg won 15 races in 2012 in Europe I began to believe that we had the right talent and that we were never ever window dressing. When I look at the potential across Africa I think we can transform the sport and I think Africa deserves to be in world tour cycling.

 Our team has lots of international riders and I did that by design because we wanted to fast track our African riders to success and that would have taken a lot longer to do if we didn’t have those aspirational leaders within the team. The riders get up every day knowing that their success means the success of somebody else.

The other day we were in Khayelitsha, in a school and I took the team riders into a class room and I said to them:

‘You saw the happiness on the faces of the kids that we gave bikes to here today, so that they can have hope, opportunity, be independent and be educated so that their lives can change for the better. Here you sit in the classrooms they will sit in everyday and the worst day for you in a race in Europe will never be as bad as some of their best days here, potentially. When, as a pro rider you are suffering and sitting in the gutter at 3degrees at Milan San Remo, with shitty wind and it’s a 295km race and you have got 200km to go in the rain, this is what gives you that extra motivation. This is what will unite you together and make you find each other in the peloton, to do something significant, so you can change their lives.’

– Doug

 Their motivation comes from there. We want to leave a legacy. We want to mobilize the African continent and give it hope and do something significant.

BN: What are the focus areas of the team for 2019?

We are focusing on GC’s in the grand tours. Ben O’Connor was amazing in the Giro in 2018, he was in the top 10 until 3 days to go before he crashed and broke his collarbone. The Giro is a big focus for him, as a GC.

The Tour de France for Louis Meintjies is a dress rehearsal for 2020, we want to get him right back up there again. He is super motivated and it’s a major focus. Of course we will still support Cav in the stages, which is part of our dual strategy approach for the Tour de France.

Then with the likes of Michael Valgren, Roman Kreuziger, Nizzolo, Gasparotto, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Jay Thompson we have an incredibly strong classics group. Lars Buck has joined us, so all in all we have a lot of power in our team and we want to do something in the classics. We want to take on the Spring classics and the Ardennes and get the world tour points needed to improve our ranking into the top 10 in the world.

BN: All the best Doug!

Cheers.


ENDS.


Images courtesy: Doug Ryder, AfricasTeam.com, Qhubeka, Damian Murphy and Wayne Reiche.




PHOTO CREDIT

Doug RyderAfricasTeam.comQhubekaDamian MurphyWayne Reiche