In 2014, just as ENVE was looking for a special team to sponsor, one with a true purpose beyond results, Team Dimension Data principle Doug Ryder asked his riders which wheels they wanted to ride the following season. ‘ENVE,’ they told him. It was a perfect match and a true partnership was born, one that transcends even the racing success and critical product development. Now, as the team embarks on a new challenge to place an African rider on the podium of the Tour de France by 2020, we take you inside the team throughout the winter to find out how they’re working towards that goal. Stay tuned for new stories every week.

At the end of last season, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka announced a bold new goal to target a GC podium finish with an African rider at the Tour de France by 2020, and nothing less than winning the world’s biggest bike race after that. On one hand, it looks crazily optimistic for a team at the bottom end of the UCI WorldTour rankings, that was just a club 10 years ago, and has no GC experience. On the other hand, this team was just a club 10 years ago, and look at all it has achieved since.

Team principle Doug Ryder is an exceptionally driven, focused, and engaging individual. When we sat down with him in the team’s hotel in Cape Town during November’s training camp, it wasn’t so much an interview as a matter of starting the recorder and not interrupting for the next 45 minutes while he laid out his vision with a rare frankness, including the elephant in the room – whether the team can retain Mark Cavendish while shifting form to support Louis Meintjes for the Tour’s general classification. Here it is, in his own words:

I think the GC is a natural evolution for our team. We’ve always wanted to bring Louis Meintjes back and we’ve always had the dream of being the best team in the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées. Winning stages is hard; going for the GC is even harder. It isn’t something that we’ve done before. It has much more pressure, much more preparation, but it is a natural evolution.

We didn’t want to do it without an African rider. If Louis hadn’t come to us, we wouldn’t have bought any other GC rider. With Louis back in the team, [we have an] African rider who has shown that he can fight and he can be there.

Each year at the Tour de France, Louis has lost time because he didn’t have a team committed to him. It was three and a half minutes in this year’s Tour, for nothing. We have seen that the podium is really possible, so why not give it a shot?

Going for GC is important to secure our future in the WorldTour. If you look at the amount of UCI points that are earned in stage races, GC is something that you need to do as a team. You can score as many for the GC as for winning 10 stages.

This year, Louis is doing the Giro and we’re focused on Mark Cavendish in the Tour de France. We really want to help Mark go beyond the stage win record and be that guy who stands alone. So, we’ll support Cav completely at the Tour and Louis is going to aim for the top five at the Giro. You can imagine how much flak we’re going to take next year, as an African team, not putting Louis in the Tour de France. That’s why we’ve already announced that he’s going to do the Giro, because we want people to understand that this is part of a plan. You don’t build Rome in a day. [Happily, the Giro route looks great for Louis and the Tour’s does not, avoiding any awkwardness in trying to support him and Cav jointly at the Tour.]

We know that we don’t have the team to support Louis in a GC bid today. But 50% of our team is out of contract at the end of 2018 and then we can build. So, we have a plan, it will be a three-year journey. We will always want to support the sprinters because we will still need to win races. We’re not going to be as hardcore about [our GC goals] as Team Sky.

We absolutely want to keep Mark Cavendish. He has made such an impact on this team. We’re already talking with Cav about his goals and 2020 strategy, so absolutely we want to keep him. Gaviria, Caleb Ewan and those guys, they’re quick, and they’re coming, so Mark might have to shake things up a bit, but he’s up to it. He feels he’s still incredibly fast. You can see that he’s hungry, he’s motivated, he’s positive, so let’s see.

Our dream for Nick Dlamini is that he rides the Tour de France in 2020, as the first black South African in the race. He won’t ride the Giro or the Tour this year. We try to bring our African riders into the Vuelta first, so that’s a possibility. He’s still young and we want to develop him. He didn’t start early, like Julien Vermote, who has been racing since he was 13.

And with that, Ryder excuses himself and strides off to his next meeting. Many in the sport scoffed in disbelief at the announcement of the 2020 GC goal, but it doesn’t matter. This team has all the belief it needs and a habit of turning its dreams into reality.

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