Out of Africa: How Team MTN-Qhubeka Is Changing The World One Bike At A Time
The real story behind the snow, sleet and freezing temperatures of the Milan-San Remo race was one to warm even the coldest of hearts.
The team of the winning rider, Gerald Ciolek, is the Barcelona of the professional peloton.Â
Team MTN-Qhubeka promotes a charity that is changing the lives of thousands of impoverished South Africans, and all with the help of the humble bicycle.
While Team Sky shamelessly plugs luxury motor and clothing brands on its website and through its social media, the message of the first African team to compete at the highest level of pro bike racing is every bit as inspiring as Barcaâ€™s was when they announced their partnership with childrenâ€™s charity UNICEF.
Qhubeka is a South African voluntary organization set up to help the countryâ€™s poorest rural communities.Â One of the ways it does this is by providing specially-built bikes to kids.Â The word â€śqhubekaâ€ť is Zulu for â€śto move forwardâ€ť, and the charity’s slogan is:
“Mobilising change in Africa, one bicycle at a time.”
This is the model of bike provided by the charity.Â Itâ€™s called the Qhubeka Buffalo bike, and each one comes equipped with helmet, pump, lock and basic tool kit.Â Designed by World Bicycle Relief in Chicago, they are assembled in South Africa to withstand the tough, environmental conditions of the countryâ€™s outback.Â In these remote communities, itâ€™s no exaggeration to say a bicycle is more than a piece of sports equipment â€“ itâ€™s a means of communication between villages and a way of lessening the burden of transporting water and other vital supplies vast distances across rough ground.
All of which probably seemed far easier than completing the Milan-San Remo race as snow and plunging temperatures forced the organisers to shorten the route last Sunday.
One of race winner Ciolekâ€™s domestiques was 22-yr-old South African Songezo Jim, who only learned to ride a bike when he was 14.
Describing the race as â€śthe coldest he had ever been on a bicycleâ€ť, he told how, during the neutralisaton period when the riders took refuge in the team buses, he could not take off any of his clothes or gloves because he was so cold.Â Only a hot shower and fresh kit enabled him to get back on his bike for the restart.Â Â But worse was to come.Â Here is what he blogged on the teamâ€™s website:
â€śWith 50km to go I went up to Ciolek and told him I was dead. He asked me to get him gloves but he could see I was finished. I helped him with the gloves but I couldnâ€™t anymore, he had to come back to the team car to get them.â€ť
The MTN-Qhubeka official team website is well worth visiting, much more interesting than the corporate blandness of Team Skyâ€™s.
Who knows, you might even feel tempted to make a donation to a very good cause.
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