Following Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung’s successful WorldTour debut at Tirreno-Adriatico, Africa’s first Pro Continental Team will be at the start of the Milan-Sanremo race in Italy on Sunday. With its appearance at the sport’s longest professional one-day race, the team will again make cycling history, as the first team with an African licence to take part. And for the first time, a black cyclist from South Africa, Songezo Jim, will take on the 298 kilometre “Classica di Primavera” from Milan to Sanremo.
Team Principal Doug Ryder says it’s an honour for the team to be invited to compete. “Milan-Sanremo is an iconic race; the longest cycling classic in the world and the biggest one-day race in Italy,” he says. “For most of our team, this race 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 WorldTour race. Songezo and the rest of the team will race to support Gerald Ciolek, and hopefully bring him to the Cipressa at 275kms without having to have done too much and then we will see what he can do.”
Team captain Gerald Ciolek proved his good form this spring with his stage win at the Three Days of West Flanders and his third and fourth place finishes in the sprints at Tirreno-Adriatico.
22-year old Songezo Jim is looking forward to the opportunity to learn from one of the team’s more experienced leaders. “I am very excited about it,” he says. “I am looking forward to learning from the older guys like 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 WorldTour 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 and learn as much as I can.”
In addition to Ciolek, the team management will also look to the newly-crowned South African champion Jay Thomson and his countrymen Jaco Venter and Jim. Also wearing the Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung jersey at Milan-Sanremo will be German Martin Reimer, Spaniard Sergio Pardilla, German Andreas Stauff and Italian Kristian Sbaragli.
But the team will not only be in the spotlight in Italy for its pro riders. The race organiser, RCS Sport, which not only directs Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo but also the Giro d’Italia, has invited the South African team and its management to a gala dinner on Thursday evening.
“On Thursday night we are thrilled to be attending the La Primavera Gala Dinner, the proceeds of which will go to our MTN-Qhubeka Bikes for Life programme,” he explains. “This will make such an impact in the lives of many South African kids and encourage them to take up cycling. This is an incredible week for our team, especially in only its first year in the Pro Tour.”
The Qhubeka foundation is very happy with the performance of its namesake team on the world’s cycling scene. “Our job at Qhubeka is to change lives through distributing bicycles and mobilizing people throughout Southern Africa,” says Qhubeka Founder, Anthony Fitzhenry. “Through our partnerships, we have created a development path in all of our programmes to take riders to the top level of the sport, which is just mind-blowing. To think that getting to race at WorldTour races could start with a Qhubeka Buffalo bicycle is very exciting for us.’’
Information about Qhubeka can be found at: http://qhubeka.org/
Milan-Sanremo (Italy) – (March 17/WorldTour): Gerald Ciolek (GER), Martin Reimer (GER), Andreas Stauff (GER), Jay Thomson (RSA), Kristian Sbaragli (ITA), Jaco Venter (RSA), Songezo Jim (RSA), Sergio Pardilla (ESP)
Staff: Jens Zemke (Directeur Sportif), Brent Copeland (Directeur Sportif), Dr Robert Child (Sports Nutritionist), Bastian Buffel (Soigneur), Hagen Bernutz (Soigneur), Ian Blackburn (Soigneur), Daniele Nierie (Mechanic), Heiko Heinrici, (Mechanic), Casper Bester (Mechanic), Francesco Bonnini (Bus Driver)