Over a decade ago, Doug Ryder forged an ambitious dream to take an African team to the Tour de France, produce a system for developing Africans into professional cyclists, and to get Africa to embrace the bicycle.
Today, Ryder’s dream has become a reality.
An ever-present force for the past six years, Ryder’s Team Qhubeka NextHash will return to the biggest race in cycling again on Saturday donning Qhubeka, a South African not-for-profit for whom they aim to raise awareness, across their jerseys.
Buoyed by increased coverage on the back of incredible stage victories from Mauro Schmid, Giacomo Nizzolo and Victor Campenaerts at the Giro d’Italia, the UCI WorldTour team has incredibly raised funds for over 30,000 bicycles since inception.
Their strong performances are no coincidence, though. Team Qhubeka NextHash are one of the most forward thinking and advanced in terms of their use of technology and data.
This is something that has been at the forefront of Ryder’s philosophy since the very beginning.
“We’ve leveraged technology within our environment in a big way to try and enhance our performance. If you think that we’ve taken African riders into Europe from a continent that had never been in cycling before, so we brought in the best riders that we could to understand what their data was and then measured it against the African riders and built that bridge.”
Today, the South African remains unwavering in his approach. Embrace technology and data to enable his riders and staff to perform at their highest level in the sport.
And nowhere is this more epitomised than with their recent technical partnership with artificial intelligence company Zone7.
The company specialises in injury risk forecasting and works with professional sports teams from European Soccer clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League, to top rugby teams in the Guinness PRO 14.
Team Qhubeka NextHash are the first professional cycling team to get involved.
“For us to keep in front of our competitors, in terms of the tech sphere within cycling, we’re super-reliant on partners like Zone7. A lot of the technology we are putting in place is just helping us to make better informed decisions about where we need to focus and prioritise our resources. Whether that is race selection, rider preparation, or nutritional strategies,” explained Ryder.
Traditionally, the California-based company has partnered with teams where they break down performance data to forecast when players are at risk of injury. However, their approach with Team Qhubeka NextHash is slightly different due to the endurance nature of the sport.
Zone7 plans to use external workload data that quantifies the cyclists' training and competition volume and intensity, alongside sleep duration and quality to create forecasting models for stress and fatigue metrics and how they impact performance.
This also leans on Zone7’s experience from outside professional sport, such as within the military and healthcare industry.
This system developed for Team Qhubeka NextHash will highlight situations in which cyclists are at an optimal physical state to train and compete, as well as alert them before they develop overtraining, which is particularly important to avoid within endurance sports.
Zone7 is able to provide a holistic analysis of all data concerning an athlete’s health and wellness.
Crucially, this means the company can analyse data about sleep and stress, as well as medical records and fitness testing and find patterns connecting all these data streams.
“Most of the riders now are really looking for more data. Working with partners such as Zone7, is a fantastic relationship to be able to help simplify that data down so that people at all levels can start to utilise and understand it.”
The 108th edition of the Tour de France starts in Brest on Saturday and finishes in Paris on Sunday, 18 July.
The riders will tackle two individual time trials and six mountain stages on trips to the Alps and Pyrenees as they race 3,414km around France.