By Bardy the Action Scribe

MTN Energade riders Jay Thomson and Kevin Evans had good reason to smile after the final two stages of the 2008 Tour d’Egypte cycle race at the weekend. For Evans, a smile of joy; for Thomson, a smile of relief.

On Saturday Evans won the race’s penultimate stage and on Sunday, Thomson crossed the finish line of the final stage in the race leader’s Yellow Jersey to claim victory in the seven-day, 900-km tour.

It was Thomson’s first ever tour victory and maiden international win, giving a glimpse of the immense potential of the 21-year-old third year professional from Krugersdorp.

“It’s a great feeling to have won the tour, but it wasn’t easy and I am more relieved than anything else right now,” said Thomson, whose hold on the race lead looked in danger on Saturday’s hilly 160km stage in hot, windy conditions.

The Tunisian team of second-placed Ayman Ben Hassine went on the attack before halfway, using the strong crosswinds to eliminate almost the entire field, with Thomson the only rider able to hang on.

“There were five Tunisians and myself eventually and they were doing their best to ride me out of the Jersey,” said Thomson. “I was just hanging on for dear life!”

But a 15-rider group led by the Turkish-based Brisaspor team of third-placed Pavel Nevdakh brought the Tunisian attack back with just five kilometres remaining and it was from this 21-rider group that Evans launched his stage-winning move on a short, steep climb 1.5km from the finish.

It was the first international road race win for Evans, who is the reigning South African marathon mountain bike champion. The 30-year-old from Knysna was using the Tour d’Egypte as a preparation race for next month’s Absa Cape Epic and finished a respectable fifth overall, just 22 seconds away from a podium place.

Thomson’s win wasn’t quite expected as the team’s captain and tour specialist, Nicholas White, withdrew the day before their departure following the death of his father. Thomson deputised superbly, but gave his teammates all the glory.

“The team was amazing. Without their support I most certainly wouldn’t have been able to win,” he said.

With all five of the team’s riders finishing in the top 25 overall, MTN Energade also secured the team competition title in the 2.2-rated UCI Africa Tour event.

2008 Tour d’Egypte
Leading results
Final General Classification
1 Jay Thomson (MTN Energade – South Africa) 22hr29min39sec
2 Ayman Ben Hassine (Tunisia) @ 2min20sec
3 Pavel Nevdakh (Brisaspor) @ 3:14
4 Omar Hasanin (Syria) @ 3:34   
5 Kevin Evans (MTN Energade – South Africa) @ 3:36
20 Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade – South Africa) @ 19:11
21 Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade – South Africa) @ 20:03
25 Juan van Heerden (MTN Energade – South Africa) @ 26:16

Final Team General Classification
1 MTN Energade – South Africa 67hr37min54sec
2 Brisaspor @5min26sec
3 Tunisia @ 5:31
4 Libya @ 38:17
5 Syria @ 42:15