By Bardy the Action Scribe

Ian McLeod, the only South African to have raced on a ProTour team in 2007, was thrown a lifeline by MTN Cycling this week after his contract with the French-based Le Francaise des Jeux squad wasn’t renewed for 2008.

Ian McLeod, the only South African to have raced for a ProTour team in 2007, will return to his home country to race on the MTN Cycling squad for 2008.

McLeod faced the prospect of having to find a personal sponsor next year in order to continue racing, but can now relax in the knowledge that he’ll be a member of MTN Cycling, a very established team that has both local and international goals for 2008.

“It was a no-brainer signing Ian. He’s a high quality rider that’s been on a ProTour team for the past three years. He doesn’t have to prove himself. He will be a huge asset to our team,” explained MTN Cycling team owner, Douglas Ryder.

McLeod, one of the few characters in cycling, is widely liked and respected and will join some of his former HSBC teammates, Nicholas White, Neil MacDonald and Malcolm Lange in the yellow and blue strip next year.

“I’m really grateful to MTN and Douglas for the opportunity,” said McLeod. “To have raced 2008 on my own would have been tough, especially in a team sport like cycling. I’m looking forward to adding some depth to the team, particularly in the stage races and tough one-day races.”

McLeod has completed two Vuelta a Espana’s (Tour of Spain), but has been dogged by injuries in the past two years, preventing him from reaching his full potential. The 27-year-old tore a quad muscle in a crash during Paris-Nice, early in 2006. He returned to the bike quite quickly, but his weakened quadricep resulted in a string of referred muscle and tendon problems and a crash on Stage 5 of the 2007 Giro d’ Italia left him with a broken collarbone that required surgery to repair.

McLeod’s best performance during his contract with Le Francaise des Jeux was during the 2006 Vuelta a Espana where he finished 11th on one of the stages. While recovering from his collarbone injury, he finished third at the 2007 ITEC Jock Cycle Classique and more recently, claimed third place at the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge.

The 2007 Giro d’ Italia was meant to be McLeod’s breakthrough event in Europe as he was in superb form at the start and was riding strongly until the crash in the first week ended his hopes of achieving his goal. His collarbone has now healed and he’s been visiting a biokineticist and a physiotherapist in South Africa that have helped him regain the balance and strength in his legs.

“I’m riding pain-free again which is a great feeling and plan to achieve some good form for the start of the racing season in January,” he smiled. “I’m excited about the Giro del Capo and the Tour of South Africa. I believe we’ll have enough depth and talent in the team to give the international teams like Barloworld a good go.”

“I’m very excited to have Ian on board the team,” said Nic White, MTN Cycling team captain. “A few of us raced with him before when he showed that amazing promise and got his European contract. I sincerely hope he gets over his injury worries and rediscovers the form and confidence that can take him to his true potential.”

According to Ryder, McLeod has yet to reach his peak and is hoping that one year with MTN Cycling will give him a springboard to get back into the European peloton.

“Talent like Ian’s must be nurtured and not lost to South African cycling. I want to see him achieve his potential and hope that his time with MTN Cycling allows him to regather himself for another shot at a ProTour team contract in future.”

The full MTN Cycling Continental Team for 2008: Nicholas White (captain), Malcolm Lange, Neil MacDonald, Waylon Woolcock, David George, Ian McLeod, Jay Thomson, Jonathan Kinnear, Juan van Heerden, Bradley Potgieter.