Songezo Jim made history as he crossed the finish in Madrid on the 21st and final stage of the Vuelta a Espana becoming the first black South African rider to complete the Spanish grand tour. The MTN-Qhubeka rider had only learned how to ride a bike ten years ago before signing his first professional contract at 22 years of age with the African team. The now 24-year-old is nearing the end of his third season explained finishing the Vuelta was an important goal he had set himself and has given Jim further confidence in his ability.
"A grand tour race is different to any other professional race though. Firstly it is a World Tour level event so the standard is really, really high. Then there is the duration, for three weeks you racing at that level so it really takes a lot out of your body," Jim said. "Getting to my first Grand Tour was something I really worked hard for so to finish it now, it is a pretty amazing achievement.
"I am really happy to have made it to Madrid. When I first started the Vuelta I thought I’d just be there trying to finish but I was also happy with my performance. I was there to help the team when needed, getting bottles and with Louis doing so well on the GC it was important that we all did our part."
Initially unsure how his body would react to three hot and hard weeks of racing, Jim made it into the breakaway on stage 9 while still feeling fresh but found the going much tougher on his stage 18 experience.
"This was only my first grand tour but I already know I want to do more grand tours. The longer the stage race is, the better I get. Normally I only do seven to nine days but a grand tour is three weeks," he said. "I hope to get used to this type of racing because I want to win a stage in a grand tour in the near future.
"From what I could I see, I just need to up my level a bit more because you could see the breakaway’s making it in the final in the third week. I was there in the break on stage 18 which was good, but I just couldn’t stay with Nicolas Roche and them at the end so I need that extra depth still.
Jim will close out his season with a handful of races in his adopted country of Italy followed by the Abu Dhabi Tour and a well earned holiday.
"A lot of people have said that finishing your first grand tour boosts your engine a bit, so I am confident in my progression as bike rider," he said. "Right now, I’m not 100% healthy after the race but I’m going home now and I’ll relax for a couple of days and get healthy again. Then I have three Italian races and the Abu Dhabi Tour, hopefully I can have a good race in Abu Dhabi as it will be my last race of the season before I go back home to South Africa for some proper rest."
Tinkoff-Saxo backing Pires at GP Wallonie
Bruno Pires will have the rare opportunity to lead his Tinkoff-Saxo team this Wednesday at the 1.1 GP Wallonie. The 198.2km undulating parcours of the one-day race remains the same as previous editions, suiting the characteristics of Evgeny Petrov who will be given the opportunity to pursue personal ambitions should the opportunity present itself.
"Pires will be our protected rider at GP Wallonie," sport director Steven de Jongh said. "The parcours suits Evgeny Petrov more than the rest of the races he will do this season. We don't have a favourite to win the race, but we will adapt our strategy to maximize our chances and try to be in the breakaway.
"Normally, the breakaway is caught before the final short climb to Citadell de Namur, where the favourites fight for the win in a select group or very reduced bunch," Jongh added of how he sees the race playing out. "It's an uphill sprint, where the captains and outsiders kick up the intensity from the bottom of the climb. We want Pires to stay calm in the finale, while our other riders must cover attacks and gaps from the distance.
34-year-old Pires has only won one his professional career, a stage of the Volta ao Alentejo em Bicicleta in 2008, and is yet to finish a one-day race his season. Pires' support will come from the returning duo Edward Beltran and Jesus Hernandez while stagiaires Michael Gogl and Felix Grossschartner have also been selected for the race.
"Beltran and Hernandez will protect Pires for as long as possible. They both sustained injuries at the USA Pro Challenge and we are not sure about their form. Our two stagiaires [Michael Gogl and Felix Grossschartner] could play an important role," De Jongh added. "They are very motivated and both of them are naturally fighting to make their way into the pro ranks."
Tinkoff-Saxo for GP Wallonie: Bruno Pires, Evgeny Petrov, Edward Beltran, Jesus Hernandez, Michael Kolar, Michael Gogl and Felix Grossschartner.
Kirsch replaces Ben Gastauer in Luxembourg's Worlds team
Alex Kirsch (Cult Energy Pro Cycling) has been called into the Luxembourg national team for the UCI Road World Championships as a replacement for the ill Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The three-man squad already lost Bob Jungels for the Worlds with a broken wrist ruling the Trek rider out.
"First of all, I feel sorry for Ben," Kirsch said upon receiving the news. "Representing your country is very special. But obviously I'm feeling honoured being able to represent Luxembourg at the Worlds and I hope to be a sold replacement for Ben. My form has improved significantly during the past few months so I feel ready and up for the challenge. I'm aware that’s a very difficult race and I’ll do what I can to protect and support Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC Racing) for as long as possible."
Kirsch joins Drucker and Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) for the September 27 road race in Richmond, Virginia.
Italy reveals 2015 World Championship jersey
Italian national coach Davide Cassani and president Renato di Rocco were on hand in Milan to unveil the Italian national jersey for this month's UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. The Castelli made jersey remains true to the blue colour of previous years with Tagetik, corporate performance management software providers, prominent as the sponsor above a strip strip of the national colours.
While the 14-rider men's roster will be trimmed to 11 before the team flies to North America, Cassini explained he is confident Italy will have a better showing than the 2014 Worlds. Click here to see the full Italian team selected for the Worlds.
"We have more of a chance than last year. Trentin is going really strong, I trust Ulissi, Viviani and Nizzolo are fit. Of course,we do not posses a rider like Degenkolb, but we can count on a strong team and you know that we will invent something. "
Team Sky's Elia Viviani and his girlfriend, current national road champion Elena Cecchini, were both present Bettini Photo