By Kevin McCallum, 10
While the cycling world were celebrating the first black African to wear the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour de France, MTN-Qhubeka revealed they were still fighting old prejudices after another of their black riders was the subject of racist abuse.
Natnael Berhane of Eritrea was called a “n****r” by Branislau Samoilau, a Belarusian with the Polish CCC Sprandi Polkowice squad during the fourth stage of the Tour of Austria on Wednesday. Samoilau had apparently taken issue with Berhane overtaking him during the race and said, “F**k you, n****r” to the MTN-Qhubeka rider. The South African team made an official complaint to the race organisers and the UCI, the global governing body of cycling. Samoilau has been kicked out of the Tour of Austria.
“There was a racist incident against Natnael, who was racing really, really well in Austria,” said Doug Ryder, team principal of MTN-Qhubeka. “The CCC rider said to Natnael, ‘Get out of the way you effing n****r’. Just outrageous. We alerted the authorities and they have removed the rider from the race. We are here to change perceptions not endure them.”
The MTN-Qhubeka team in Austria includes another black African rider in Songezo Jim, who hails from Khayelitsha, while Merhawu Kudus and Daniel Teklehaimanot of Eritrea are riding for the team at the Tour de France.
CCC Sprandi Polkowice put out a statement yesterday in which they acknowledged the incident: “In the heat of the battle some words have been said by our rider, which were very unfortunate and unacceptable. We, as a team, do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and the rider will suffer consequences. Before the next stage the situation has been clarified between two teams and the riders, but we don’t want to get into details.”
It did little to take the shine of a magnificent day for Team MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung at the Tour de France and the Tour of Austria. Johann van Zyl won the fifth stage in Austria, his first professional victory, but he was overshadowed by the efforts of Teklehaimanot. The Eritrean took all three King of the Mountains points on offer to become the first black African to win a jersey at one of the three Grand Tours. Teklehaimanot, the Eritrean champion, won the KOM competition at the recent Criterium du Dauphine just before the Tour de France.
Ryder told the Press Association that there had been other incidents with a few riders from other teams in the professional bunch.
“Some of the riders are struggling to grasp what we are doing here. They are in the minority, I’m glad to say,” said Ryder. “One of the biggest teams in the world last year in the Tour of Spain, when we were trying to bring one of our riders to the front going into the mountains, said, ‘you guys don’t belong here, f*ck off to the back of the bunch’. We have riders like Tyler Farrar and Edvald (Boasson Hagen), riders who are well respected in the peloton, and they are their team-mates, and they say ’hey guys, come on, these guys deserve to be here’.
“And we have had massive support from the major team owners and bosses. Guys like Shayne Bannan (of Orica-GreenEdge), Dave Brailsford (Team Sky), Viacheslav Ekimov (Katusha). Those guys love this team. They believe they should be here.”