By Bardy the Action Scribe

After asserting themselves as the dominant team in South Africa in 2007, MTN Cycling have raised their goals for 2008 and have registered as a Continental Team, giving them a passport to cycling’s big pond.

The MTN Cycling men’s road team, pictured here at a training camp in Clarens earlier in 2007, heads into 2008 with a new status and international goals.

Continental Team status is the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) equivalent of the sport’s ‘second division’, which gives the team opportunities to race at some of the world’s biggest races against other ‘first division’ Professional Continental Pro Teams and ‘premier division’ ProTour teams, such as those that make up the majority of the Tour de France field each year.

This categorisation will ensure MTN Cycling is on the invitation list to a broad range of international events on the official UCI calendar, affording the riders opportunities to earn UCI rankings points on a more regular basis than has previously been possible.

“MTN has a strong focus on business in Africa and the Middle East,” said Douglas Ryder, MTN Cycling team owner. “We have plans to race at a variety of events in countries where MTN currently has a solid presence, or where it is building a presence. It’s an ideal synergy as it also helps develop South African and African cycling.”

The men’s road team comprises a healthy mix of rising young stars and seasoned campaigners, which ensures significant depth for any kind of race. Many of the international events on the MTN Cycling schedule for 2008 are stage races and the inclusion of the country’s leading stage racer, David George, has bolstered the team’s chances of more local and international success, following the international tour wins by Waylon Woolcock (Tour of Egypt) and Nicholas White (Tour of Morocco) in 2007.

Reigning South African champion and modern-era legend, Malcolm Lange, has confirmed his decision to postpone his retirement for another year and is expected to continue to win more than a handful of bunch sprints in 2008. He’ll be led-out and backed-up by his faithful wingman, Neil MacDonald, himself an accomplished sprinter with more than 10 years of pro-level experience.

The four youngsters on the team are all Under-23, giving the team more options for certain events, particularly in Europe, which have a strong focus on youth development. Jay Thomson (21), Bradley Potgieter (18), Jonathan Kinnear (19) and Juan van Heerden (21) have all shown immense promise and are likely to blossom under the guidance of the team’s ‘old guard’.

“It’s time we started developing African cycling from Africa,” said George, who will also be used as a technical advisor to the team. “The traditional cycling structures which insist that success can only be bred from Europe can now be challenged with the substantial backing of MTN. It’s a very exciting time for cycling on this continent.”

2008 MTN Men’s Continental Team: Nicholas White (captain), Malcolm Lange, Neil MacDonald, Waylon Woolcock, David George, Jay Thomson, Jonathan Kinnear, Juan van Heerden, Bradley Potgieter. Manager: Jacques Fullard; PR and Marketing: Kandice Buys; Technical Director: Gary Blem; Owner: Douglas Ryder; Administration: Nicki Ryder; Coach: Dr Carol Austin.