Cycling team accept apology after racial slurs

THE first African team to ride at the Tour de France has accepted an apology and a charitable donation after one of their riders was racially abused.

MTN-Qhubeka – which is led by Scots general manager Brian Smith – complained after Eritrean Natnael Berhane was allegedly abused by Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau at a race in Austria.

Berhane is alleged to have been subjected to racist abuse by Samoilau, during the Tour of Austria on Wednesday and the squad took his complaint to the sport’s world governing body, the UCI.

Samoilau rides for CCC Sprandi Polkowice and a statement from the Polish team said: “The rider will suffer consequences.”

The incident at the Austrian race took the shine off what should have been a historic day for the team as rider Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first black African to wear the polka dot king of the mountains jersey in the Tour de France, being held at the same time.

Qhubeka is a charity – World Bicycle Relief’s programme in South Africa – and means “To move forward”.

It is understood Samoilau will donate a month’s salary to the organisation.

Smith, from Paisley, raced as a professional in the 1990s and his career included British titles and a one-year stint with a young Lance Armstrong at the Motorola team.

Last year Smith was asked by MTN-Qhubeka, Africa’s leading team, to recruit a squad and manage it for the Tour de France.

Speaking from the team car on day seven of the famed race, he said: “It goes without saying that in this day and age, racism has no place in any sport.

“I both hope and believe it will be a one-off case.

“As far as we are concerned the situation has been dealt with, the team and rider has apologised and so the matter is settled.”

MTN-Qhubeka team principal Douglas Ryder had called the incident “outrageous”, while Sprandi Polkowice said that the rider’s actions were “unacceptable”.

A statement from Sprandi Polkowice read: “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 the consequences.

“Before the next stage, the situation has been clarified between the two teams and the riders, but we don’t want to get into details.”

The majority of the professional peloton is supportive of MTN-Qhubeka’s efforts, but there have been unfortunate incidents, with team members Edvald Boasson Hagen, from Norway, and Tyler Farrar, of theUnited States, sometimes having to intervene.

“Some of the riders are struggling to grasp what we are doing here. They are in the minority I’m glad to say,” Ryder added.

“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’.”

He revealed, though, that the team has “had massive support from the major team owners and bosses”.