By Bardy the Action Scribe

Two gold medals in two rides at last weekend’s 2007 International Cycling Union (UCI) Continental Championships in Cameroon saw seasoned MTN Microsoft professional, Nicholas White, get off to fantastic start in the 2008 UCI Africa Tour, the continent’s premier road cycling circuit.

White secured the victories in both the individual time trial and the road race, which gave him 120 points – 100 for the road race and 20 for the time trial. Considering the overall winners of the 2006 and 2007 Africa Tour scored a total of 216 and 232 points respectively, White has a substantially solid start to the Africa Tour, which is set to gain significant momentum and prominence in 2008, its third year of existence.

“Until now, the UCI Africa Tour has mostly incorporated events in countries north of the equator, which has made it difficult for South African teams to travel and score points,” explained MTN Microsoft team boss, Douglas Ryder. “But in 2008, eight of the 19 Africa Tour events are in South Africa, which will benefit local teams. With our main sponsor, MTN, having major interests throughout Africa, one of our goals is to shine in – and hopefully win – the 2008 UCI Africa Tour.”

As long as he leads the UCI Africa Tour, White will get to wear the unique jersey in Africa Tour events that denotes his top ranking, similar to the UCI ProTour leader’s jersey. He also qualifies to wear a Continental Champion’s jersey in all events.

“It’s quite nice to have the UCI Africa Tour leader’s jersey in our team already as the 2008 season started on 1 October and runs through to 30 September next year,” explained White. “It’s also great for MTN to have the current national champion (Malcolm Lange) and the continental champion on the team.”

White says that the podium positions at the Continental Champs road race, filled by himself and fellow South Africans, Johan Rabie (Neotel) and Jay Thomson (Konica Minolta) respectively, are not necessarily representative of the standard of the competition.

“It was a hard race! The Eritrean riders surprised us and as usual, the Moroccans were force to be reckoned with. We did 18 laps of 7.2km circuit (130km), which made it a very intense event. The Eritreans were very strong on the climbs and ultimately it was our experience that gave us all three medals. If it weren’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t have won. That’s for sure.”

The full men’s team was: White, Rabie, Thomson, Luthando Kaka (Acsis), Hanko Kachelhoffer (Harmony) and Nolan Hoffman (Neotel).

What was scheduled as a 24km individual time trial had to be shortened to 12km to ensure the riders wouldn’t interfere with the passage of the Cameroon president’s motorcade!

“It ended up being like riding a prologue distance time trial,” smiled White. “Flat out riding from the start with smallish time gaps. The entire championships didn’t run all that smoothly, but it was quite a unique experience which turned out well for South Africa as in total, we won 10 of the 12 medals.”

The next event on 2008 UCI Africa Tour will be the Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Tour of Gabon) from 16-20 January 2008.

2007 UCI Continental Championships, Cameroon 9-11 November
Leading results:

Men’s Road Race
1 Nicholas White (RSA)
2 Johan Rabie (RSA)
3 Jay Thomson (RSA

Men’s Individual Time Trial
1 Nicholas White (RSA)
2 Jay Thomson (RSA)
3 Bereket Abebe (ERI)

Women’s Road Race
1 Marissa van der Merwe (RSA)
2 Lynette Burger (RSA)
3 Yolandi du Toit (RSA)

Women’s Individual Time Trial
1 Lynette Burger (RSA)
2 Yolandi du Toit (RSA)
3 Aurelie Halbwachs (MAU)