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Rider Interview: Songezo Jim, MTN-Qhubeka

Just 11 years ago, Songezo Jim did not know how to ride a bike, and in a few months he and his team are hoping to make history at the Tour de France.

Growing up in South Africa, Songezo Jim had aspirations of being a soccer player, but tragedy struck. By the age of 12, he lost both his parents and was forced to move to Cape Town to live with his aunt. It was there that fate intervened.
“There’s a big race in Cape Town which is called the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour and that day, everything closes, so you can’t go anywhere, so we just had to watch,” he said. “So I went and watched the race.”

After asking one of the other patrons about the sport, he joined a local club the very next day. “I didn’t know how to ride a bike at that point so they had to teach me,” he said. “They thought I was crazy. My family, my friends – I lost friends when I started cycling. I had to make a decision, I said ‘sorry guys, I’m stopping soccer, I’m going to do cycling’ and from there they never spoke to me”.

But the keen teenager didn’t let that stop him from pursing the sport. “When I used to go to school, I would take my kit and hide it behind the house,” he said. “When I’d come back, I’d say I’m going to play and then I’d take my kit hidden behind the house and then I’d go ride. “They saw me after a week. My Aunt saw me on the bike with a friend and I saw her and thought ‘today I’m in trouble when I get home’. When I got home, she didn’t say a word.”

Just a few years later, Songezo Jim became a professional cyclist and is now part of MTN-Qhubeka, a cycling team based in South Africa. It’s made up of more than 20 riders, with about half of them coming from various African countries. The rest are professional riders from around the world.

The new cool runnings?

There have been suggestions that the team will be going into the race as a version of Cool Runnings, a film inspired by a Jamaican bobsleigh team that had never seen snow and qualified for the winter Olympics. Sporting director, Michel Cornelisse dismissed the comparison. “If the story ends the same, then it’s good”.

“But no, we are really going in it for a green jersey.” As for Songezo Jim, he hopes the team’s debut at the Tour will inspire more Africans to take up the sport. “We’re an African team and cycling in South Africa is not all that big, so it’s good,” he said. “A lot of people get to see the Tour de France, a lot of people get to talk about it. It’s going to be so good to see that it’s going to be [broadcast] live in South Africa and people will get to see it”.

Out of the more than 20 riders on the team, only nine can be selected. That’s what Songezo Jim is now aiming to achieve come July.