Africa's first Professional Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung makes its debut in cycling's Monuments with this weekend's Milan-San Remo in support of its German leader Gerald Ciolek, who scored the team's first European victory in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and had several top finishes in Tirreno-Adriatico.
In addition to bringing its talented athletes the team also brings its mission of hope - mobilising African children on bikes - to the pre-race gala on Thursday.
RCS Sport will donate proceeds of the La Primavera Gala Dinner to the Qhubeka foundation, an organisation that trades community service for the sturdy, utilitarian Qhubeka Buffalo bicycles. It is one small sign of the impact this new team is making on the European cycling scene.
"This will make such an impact in the lives of many South African kids and encourage them to take up cycling," said team principal Doug Ryder. "This is an incredible week for our team, especially in only its first year in the Pro Tour."
The MTN team has been developing talent in South Africa for years, and this year expanded its programme to include both a development program and its Pro Conti team. Although the Barloworld team had a South African sponsor and South African riders, MTN-Qhubeka is the first team at this level registered in that country, and the first to incorporate a significant number of black Africans in the team. For Milan-San Remo, Songezo Jim will be the first of those to tackle the 298km course.
Jim, 22, is looking forward to the opportunity. "I am very excited about it,” he said. “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."
According to Ryder, Jim and the rest of the team will be focused on bringing Ciolek to base of the Cipressa at kilometer 275.
The team has a significant amount of horsepower to accomplish this task: in addition to Ciolek and Jim, the team will field newly-crowned South African champion Jay Thomson, former German champion Martin Reimer, Spaniard Sergio Pardilla, German Andreas Stauff and Italian Kristian Sbaragli.
MTN-Qhubeka for Milan-San Remo: Gerald Ciolek (Ger), Martin Reimer (Ger), Andreas Stauff (Ger), Jay Thomson (RSA), Kristian Sbaragli (Ita), Jaco Venter (RSA), Songezo Jim (RSA), Sergio Pardilla (Spa)