Behind the stripes: Racing in Gabon

Songezo Jim

I put a lot of pressure on myself for La Tropicale Amissa Bongo as this was our first race as the first ever Pro Continental team. This is history in the making for cycling to have an African team at this level and I think it’s great that the record books will show we placed three riders in the top ten of our first race.

The race didn’t start off well for me as I crashed on stage one. Crashing is never nice but it’s normal in cycling. I got a new bike and carried onto the finish. The crash happened with 1.5km’s to go so I was very relieved to get the same time as the bunch. Our aim was to place as many riders high up as possible on GC so that we had a few cards to play.

After stage 3, I moved up to 11th on GC after making it to the end with a break of 20 riders. That’s when I started thinking I could maybe finish in a good position on GC. Stage 5 was the longest day and started with a tropical storm. They delayed the start and waited for the rain to stop. The roads were very wet and the only time it stopped raining was in the middle of the stage. There were so many crashes. I crashed with 7km’s to go and Louis came back to help pace me back up to the bunch. We didn’t catch them, and I lost 25 seconds but still managed 21st on the stage which moved me up to 7th overall. After stage 6 I moved up to 4th on GC after making it into a race-winning move again. 20 riders moved off the front and I was the last rider to make it across as I had a good feeling about the break. When I got there I shouted at Tsgabu and Louis to ride on the front as I saw we were splitting the peloton and leaving some riders who were ahead of me on GC behind. The break was never caught and I wanted to try something. I can’t sprint so I attacked with 3km’s to go and a guy from Lampre and Cofidis came with me. Lotto-Belisol had the numbers and caught us with 700 metres to go. After the stage I was 4th overall and 2nd on the young rider classification.

I was very nervous going into the last stage because I knew I couldn’t make up time against the sprinters for time bonuses. I was worried about crashing but my team were great at keeping me in the front and out of trouble. The plan was to put either Tsgabu who was 9th on GC or Louis who was 11th in the break so that they could get bonus seconds. Tsgabu went up the road with three other guys and managed to stay away till the end. He finished 2nd on the stage and moved up to 4th. Louis also moved up to 10th overall and we finished second overall in the team competition by on 18 seconds. It was a really good race for us.

The competition at that level was very high but I was feeling really good after doing 2200km’s in three weeks in December. Next up is our training camp in Nelspruit as we prepare for SA Champs.