Team DiData backs three new local race teams

South Africa-based cyclists -- like Nolan Hoffman who's dominated the local one-day scene over the years -- will get to test themselves more regularly in international races thanks to the three new UCI Continental teams Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

South Africa have three new UCI-registered teams, and members of Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka couldn't be happier with the increase in continental competition.

In recent weeks, TEG Procycling, ProTouch, and Team Vandergroup have all confirmed that they've registered as UCI Continental teams for 2019 -- a major fillip for South African cycling.

The trio will join Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's development squad in the third tier of international road cycling, enabling a greater number of local riders to gain experience and exposure at world-class events, whether on the UCI Africa Tour or at races all over the world.

"I'm really excited to hear about the investment and that South African cycling has more professional teams than ever, who will gain ranking points for the country," Doug Ryder, the head of Africa's Team, told ESPN.

"I'm hoping that our team's success and its status in cycling is driving that investment and driving people to say, 'I also want to get on the bus here' and, 'I also want to convince people to put money in this sport'.

"It's so relevant to have teams locally because that bridge has to be built from here to there, it can't just be on that side.

"If you look at our team, we have a UCI Continental team that's based in Italy. It has African riders from Eritrea, Rwanda, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa... so it just shows that you can invest in a Continental team and we're not the richest team in the World Tour."

While ProTouch and Team Vandergroup are existing teams who are effectively 'stepping up to the next level' (as Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka have done through their 11-year existence), TEG Procycling are a brand new outfit.

The brainchild of Hein Badenhorst, their programme will be dual purpose: the professional arm based at University of Pretoria's High Performance Centre, while recently-departed DiData coach Trevor Court will lead the development of teenage talent in conjunction with the university's bespoke TuksSport High School.

Louis Meintjes, South Africa's leading cyclist and Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka's great hope for a podium placing at a Grand Tour, is enthused that more pathways are being created for the next generation.

Meintjies told ESPN: "I'm really happy to see the new teams because when I started riding there were two teams like that -- MTN-Qhubeka and Bonitas at the time -- and it was important because there was a real competitive environment in the local race scene. That played a big role in preparing me to become a World Tour rider... it was one of those steps I had to take."

An example of what the 26-year-old Meintjes mentions is the fact that Willie Smit, who just completed his first year as a World Tour professional with Team Katusha-Alpecin, earned his gig largely because he made an impression at the 2017 World Championships.

Though Smit was the 2017 UCI Africa Tour champion after winning the African Road Race title and Tour Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, those victories came in national colours rather than as part of a UCI Continental Team.

"For the youngsters coming through now to have the four Continental teams and the World Tour team to aspire to go to will open so many more doors," Meintjies added.

"They all have the dream and the guys to relate to at the top, but to also have the framework to improve is critical if we want to see more top South African cyclists, rather than some falling through the cracks because of a lack of support.

"It's a real positive and I hope these teams have a lot of success."