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Cape Town – While the world’s top mountain bikers were racing through the streets of Kayamandi late on Tuesday, a young man from another township in the Western Cape was preparing to make history this coming weekend.
Songezo Jim only learnt how to ride a bike eight years ago, and on Sunday, he will be become the first black African – and, indeed, first black cyclist – to take part in the World Tour, the highest level of road racing, when he rolls off the line at the Milan-SanRemo on Sunday as a member of Team MTN-Qhubeka powered by Samsung.
“I am very excited about it,” said Jim, who is a product of the Velokhaya programme in Khayelitsha. “I am looking forward to learning from the older guys like (Gerald) Ciolek and Jay Thomson, and getting some coverage for the team.
“It’s a big step for me. It’s a dream come true to start a World Tour race; to line up alongside the field on Sunday. It’s not easy to get to this level and I have a long way to go, but I just want to be a sponge and absorb as much as I can.”
Thomson, the newly-crowned South African champion, has also been included in the team for Sunday, and he will be joined by compatriot Jaco Venter, with the rest of the squad consisting of German captain Gerald Ciolek, Martin Reimer, Sergio Pardilla, Andreas Stauff and Kristian Sbaragli.
“Milan-Sanremo is an iconic race; the longest cycling classic in the world, and the biggest one-day race in Italy,” said team principal Doug Ryder. “For most of our team, this will be the biggest challenge they have ever faced in cycling. We will make history again, with Songezo Jim becoming the first black South African to ever start a World Tour race.
“Songezo and the rest of the team will race to support Gerald Ciolek, and hopefully bring him to the Cipressa at 275km without having to have done too much, and then we will see what he can do.”
Jim has learnt as lot in his short career, from the basics of how to balance on a bicycle to taking bronze at the African Championships last year. “I remember watching the Argus riders go past when I was 14, and one of them stopped to talk to a friend of mine. He was from our community. I asked how I could get into cycling. They introduced me to the local cycling club and gave me an old mountain bike and said, ‘Let’s go training’. I had to tell them I couldn’t ride.”
The Milan-SanRemo will take part on Sunday, the same day that the 10th Cape Epic begins with a 23km prologue at the Meerdendal Wine Farm in Durbanville. – Cape Times