The 2015 season was a turning point his career for the 25-year-old South African Songezo Jim. The MTN-Qhubeka (Dimension Data in 2016) rider made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana, becoming the first rider of colour from South African country to ride a Grand Tour.
Prior to naming Jim in the nine-man team, the management had been unsure how he would cope with a three-week race. However, he surpassed their expectations and went on to finish the event comfortably. The team management were impressed enough to offer him an extension to his contract and give him his fifth season with the team.
For Jim, it was a major step forward in his development, after only learning to ride a bike 10 years ago. It has only made him want more.
"I was really happy with my performance," he told Cyclingnews at the team's Cape Town training camp last month. "It was my first Grand Tour so it was a new experience for me. I had to play my cards really wisely in order for me to have a good race."
"I've been in the team for four years now and I feel like I've been getting stronger every single year. The support that the team pushes me to improve and get better all the time. I live in Italy in Lucca now. There are times when you want to just go and chill with your friends and be with the family but it is the commitment of wanting to become more professional and getting better."
Jim has been with the MTN-Qhubeka team since 2012 in its final season as a Continental outfit. As he has grown, so have they and 2016 will be another major step up for Jim after Dimension Data earned a WorldTour licence. There is also the arrival of several new teammates, including Mark Cavendish. The step up is a big moment for the softly spoken Jim but he believes that there are plenty of race days to go around to keep everyone happy.
"We have a really strong team for next year. We want to win races and, of course, we have Cavendish, who is one of the fastest guys in the world, but we will take some chances also. We've got some very good young, up and coming guys. We will get our chances to shine too," he said.
"I have a few goals that I would like to achieve for myself and, of course, I have to help the team to win races because if we win races than we can put more kids on bicycles, which is what we are about. I'm looking to do some more Grand Tours and maybe get a stage win in the next couple of years."
"For me, my dream for the future is to ride the Tour de France one day. The Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the world and I would like to win a stage in any of the Grand Tours."
The next chance for Jim to shine is likely to be the Tour Down Under, which is the provisional start to his season, followed by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. He will then head home for the national championships before riding the Tour of Oman. All of this will be leading up to a potential start at the Giro d’Italia, where the team will automatically gain entry to after earning their WorldTour licence.
"The team getting a WorldTour licence was really great. We've been waiting for the news for such a long time," Jim explained. "If I look back a couple of years when I joined the team, I never imagined myself being in a WorldTour team. For me, it is a dream come true to be in a Pro Tour team. I've been really happy with the team for the past couple of years that I've been here but being in a WorldTour team it cannot get better than this."