Africa's Team has grand ambitions for 2019 - Ryder

Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka team principal Doug Ryder is looking forward to a brighter 2019 for his team Scott Mitchell/Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka

CAPE TOWN - Following a season to forget, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka have their eyes determinedly set on the road to success in 2019.

This year was a dismal one for Africa's Team, who lost nearly half their riders at various points to illness or injury, and have now made a number of new big-name signings going into 2019.

"We've kind of drawn a line in the sand because there's nothing we can do about 2018 and we've built a great team to move forward with," Team Principal Doug Ryder told ESPN.

"We've now held our November training camp which is a team-building, on-boarding, goal-setting, planning camp, with the focus now on which coaches are assigned to which riders."

It is fair to say that Africa's Team's answer to their 2018 campaign -- which yielded only two UCI WorldTour wins (Ben King's double at La Vuelta a Espana) and saw them finish bottom of the top tier rankings -- has been to be quite aggressive in the 'transfer market'.

Ryder and his management have lured nine new riders to the team, which is based in Lucca, Italy, while the same number are moving to pastures new.

Among the nine new arrivals are the full podium from the 2018 Amstel Gold Race: Michael Valgren, Roman Kreuziger and Enrico Gasparotto, as well as new sprinters in Giacomo Nizzolo and Danilo Wyss, while 38-year-old Lars Bak should prove a vital sounding board.

"Nizzolo, Kreuziger, Valgren, Lars Bak... when I look at those names I think, 'Wow, how did I get those riders to be in my team?'," Ryder says animatedly. "It's pretty much a privilege to have riders like them in the team."

Ryder hopes that the momentum for a successful season can be set from the off, when racing gets underway in Australia in January.

"We really want to start well with the Tour Down Under and we plan to send a really good team there because we know if we can get that tumbleweed rolling then hopefully it will roll through the whole year," Ryder said.

The nuances of the UCI WorldTour, and the fact that relegation and promotion is being implemented between the top two divisions of world cycling come 2020, means the the new recruits serve multiple purposes.

From an on-road perspective it confirms that the team will place a big emphasis on the one-day classics part of the season, and more importantly from a team longevity point of view, they bring vital ranking points with them.

"I don't want to say that we're fighting for our survival in 2019, but the fact is we'll be fighting for our survival," Ryder added.

"The riders get it, they believe they're good enough to take on the best in the world because we're not an underdog team anymore, that was years ago... now we're a high performance race team that's in the first division of world cycling."

That all said, at Africa's Team it's not only about what happens on the bike.

Ryder explains: "To have those riders want to join us, that's first prize. We're not the richest team in the world so it's not like we pay more and they come for the money.

"They come for the purpose, they come for the opportunity to race well, because many of them have been 'workers' at other teams but still want to race.

"The connectedness that we have with this team, and the energy, and the commitment they have to each other and how they care... This is what shows when the going gets tough and you're racing in 3 degree-weather in Milan-SanRemo, and it's 295km long and you can't talk to each other because the radio is frozen and you're cold, sitting in the gutter because of a the cross-wind."

Those sentiments go a long way to understanding why the team are not entirely changing their racing ambitions. They've retained Mark Cavendish and his trusted lieutenants, Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel, backing the Briton to have another crack at chasing down the great Eddy Merckx's 34 Tour de France wins. Cavendish was unable to add to his 30 wins during the tumultuous season just past.

Similarly, the lofty ambition of having a South African serenaded by Nkosi Sikelela i'Afrika on the Champs Elysees in 2020, whether that is the team's general classification hope Louis Meintjes or Nicholas Dlamini as 'King of the Mountains', remains.

"Why we race, what we race for, and who I am as an individual, and the passion I have to do something that had never been done before in cycling before does attract crazy people, like Mark Cavendish who's crazy-good," Ryder said.

"This team isn't for everybody, but for those people who believe in wanting to do significant things like Mark does, like Louis Meintjes does, like Nicholas Dlamini does.

"One can only imagine that by 2020 Nicholas becomes the first South African of colour to race in the Tour de France -- because that has never been done -- and goes to the Olympic Games in Tokyo ... we've got big plans, and they're not normal."

"We dream big and we still have big goals. Yes, Louis hasn't had the best year but we believe in him, he believes in himself. You don't go top ten in the Tour de France twice because you don't know what you're doing so we'll continue to focus on what we've set out to achieve."

But is this team good enough?

"If we had been injury-free, crash-free, and yet didn't do everything we possibly could, and still had this season we'd had, then I'd have more serious problems. We know we're good and we know we're going in the right direction and have the right people... if we can stay on two wheels," Ryder concluded.