By Graham Healy
It was widely reported yesterday that MTN-Qhubeka were set to become the first African team to take part in the Tour de France. The South African team were selected as one of the wildcards for this year’s race.
However, the first African team in the Tour took to the start line of the 1950 race. That year, a team comprised of 4 Algerian and 2 Moroccan riders lined up against various other national and regional teams.
The team were well able to hold their own. The Algerian rider Abdel-Kader Zaaf was the team leader and on the stage from Perpignan to Nîmes, he became the virtual yellow jersey. Another team member, Marcel Molines who was also Algerian, also infiltrated the breakaway group on that stage.
Zaaf started to struggle in the heat late on in the stage, and eventually climbed off the bike to sleep under a tree. Molines ploughed on and would go on to win by five minutes, therefore becoming the first African to win a stage of the race. When Zaaf came round meanwhile, he was so disorientated that he set off in the wrong direction.
Custodio Dos Reis was top finisher for the team back in Paris in 26th place overall. The other finisher was Ahmed Kebaili in 40th place.
Both Zaaf and Molines would continue racing for a number of years before fading into obscurity. Zaaf died in 1986, while the fate of Molines is unknown.