Team Qhubeka ASSOS (formerly NTT Pro Cycling) – Africa’s UCI WorldTour team – only secured its future in the final months of 2020 and as such, compared to many of our competitors, entered the new season rapidly assembling all of the critical parts to be fully operational, at the highest level, by the time that racing resumed in 2021.
The team has competed at Étoile de Bessèges and Tour de la Provence, showing some strong early season form with the culmination being a first victory for Team Qhubeka ASSOS by the European and Italian champion, Giacomo Nizzolo, in Clásica de Almería.
“The three races that we’ve been involved in, to kick off our season: Besseges, Provence and Almeria, all-in-all represents 10 race starts and two General Classifications. In total that is 12 classements, where Team Qhubeka ASSOS both have won one race and also secured another four top-10 places,” says Michaelsen. “If you consider some of the financial conditions that the team was in and from which we have built the roster, we could not realistically have expected those sorts of results so soon.”
“From the camp, where we unfortunately had Sergio Henao and Dylan Sunderland not available, my aim was – and it still is – to instill a spirit of “One Team”. This will be an ongoing theme throughout the season and it in fact falls perfectly in line with our team’s underpinning philosophy of “Ubuntu – I am because we are”. You’ll see that phrase emblazoned across all of our vehicles, as well as on the neck of our riders race jerseys.”
Michael Gogl finished sixth in the general classification of a very strong field in Bessèges and Giacomo Nizzolo sprinted impressively; while in Provence there was a clearer picture on where a number of our climbers are right now, which gives us hope for the races later on in the season. Fittingly, it was the European and Italian champion who secured our first victory.
“Every professional team wants to win and, if possible, right from the beginning of the season. With Giacomo Nizzolo’s win in Clásica de Almería we got just that – both a nice win and also an early win. Our hope throughout the season is, that we can pick out our days and surprise here and there. Of course these moments have to fall into what’s reasonable to expect from our team.”
Michaelsen is not getting ahead of himself just yet and knows that experience dictates that there will be some tough challenges to come, which the team will be well prepared for.
“Racing always highlights areas of success and improvement. I am happy that Douglas Ryder both gave me the freedom and relied on me when we had to piece this 2021 team together and I am proud of the sports management group that surrounds me. We have a good balance of preparing and planning things but also to handle things as they come. Like most teams we have already experienced some crashes as well as other setbacks but the spirit is to move forward which also is reflected by the feedback from our staff on the ground regarding needed or desired improvements to be made.
"That constructive feedback loop is crucial for us to try to better things. From the three races we raced, we drew some excellent elements out that are issues both needed to be resolved and aspects which are very encouraging; not all of them might be obvious to the public but as “One Team”, we will use these to build on and to improve for the season that lies ahead.”