Songezo Jim on making Milan-Sanremo history, battling epic conditions and Ciolek’s win
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Monday, March 18, 2013

Songezo Jim on making Milan-Sanremo history, battling epic conditions and Ciolek’s win

by VeloNation Press at 7:10 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Milan-Sanremo
 
MTN Qhubeka rider: “If I want to be a professional in Europe I have to endure days like this”

Songezo JimMTN Qhubeka rider Songezo Jim will remember yesterday’s edition of Milan Sanremo for a host of reasons, not least because he made history in becoming the first black South African cyclist to ride the race. But in addition to that, his debut in the event came in one of the toughest editions ever, with freezing temperatures, rain and snow pummelling the riders. To cap things off in terms of memories, his team-mate Gerald Ciolek shocked the WorldTour teams and pulled off an excellent win.

The atmosphere around the team was festive yesterday evening. The result was a huge one for the Pro Continental squad and fully justified its wildcard invitation to the race.

Today, Jim discussed what was quite a surreal day. “I still can’t believe yesterday happened and keep thinking I am going to wake up from a dream,” the 22 year old wrote in his online blog this morning.

The MTN Qhubeka team’s elevation to Pro Continental status has helped guarantee it invites to some of the world’s toughtest races. Jim was part of the lineup selected for Milan-Sanremo, and received plenty of attention prior to the drop of the flag.

“It started at the start village. I went to sign on along with Doug Ryder, our team principal. He was on a Qhubeka bike while I was on the Trek Madone,” he stated. “All the way back to the bus, people were stopping me every 20 metres. Doug was in front and every time he looked back I wasn’t there as someone else grabbed me for a chat.”

The warmth of that situation contrasted completely with the cold conditions he and the other riders faced a little later on. He also ended up on the deck too. “Seventy kilometres into the race, the team was all together and I was keeping the guys out of the wind. All of a sudden there was a crash and Sergio, Martin and I went down. I am not sure what happened as it was raining so hard and you couldn’t really look ahead of you.

“I broke my bike and called for my spare bike on the radio. We were car number twenty in the convoy so it took a while to get my second bike. I was waiting for Martin [Reimer] but he broke his shoes so his race was over. I caught up to Sergio [Pardilla] and it took us 22 kilometres to catch up to the peloton. The racing was really hard at this point and we just managed to latch onto the back.

“It was snowing, it was wet and the rain kept coming down. I was riding with my eyes closed at some point because there was no visibility with sunglasses but when you took them off the snow went into your eyes.”

The riders had some degree of respite after the organisers realised it was too dangerous to try to go over the Turchino Pass. They were told to stop and to get on their team busses, with those vehicles ferrying the riders to a later point on the race parcours, where they would begin racing again.

Jim said he was really struggling with the temperature by that point. “I was so cold I could not take off my gloves or any of my clothes. Our director, Jens had to undress me as my fingers were frozen,” he said. “Our staff were so organised. We had showers on the bus and they had fresh kit for us to get into which felt so good. This team is so professional, I was very grateful to be part of it.”

Morale boosted after talking to Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar prior to the restart, finding both riders to be very friendly to him, Jim did what he could to help Ciolek and Andreas Stauff, keeping them out of the wind and helping them to be in the right place, and said afterwards that he learned a lot. “It was great racing with them as they taught me where to sit and what to do. I kept asking them what to do and they told me when to move up,” he wrote. “I learnt so much from them yesterday, they are incredible guys.”

However the intensity of the racing meant that he wasn’t able to eat as much as he needed to and fifty kilometres from the finish, he told Ciolek that he was finished. He then pulled out.

Withdrawing was a blow, and a tough end to what was a very difficult day. However upon reflection he acquired a better perspective, and takes the positives from yesterday’s race.

“While the racing and weather was so hard I was thinking why am I doing this, this is horrible,” he admitted. “But then I thought this is what I’ve dreamt about. If I want to be a professional in Europe I have to endure days like this. Gerald winning was just unbelievable. I can’t believe I was a part of it all.”

He will next line out in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, which begins on Wednesday.

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