By Bardy the Action Scribe

The MTN Energade professional cycling team will arrive in Pietermaritzburg on Friday for the Intaka Tech World’s View Challenge with one goal, to retain the UCI Africa Tour leader’s jersey that’s sitting on the shoulders of team captain, Nicholas White.

White, the reigning African Continental Road Race and Time Trial champion, extended his lead in the prestigious continental series with a fourth-place finish at the recent Tour of Gabon. White will arrive in Pietermaritzburg with a full-strength squad, fresh from a high-altitude training camp, but will be up against some stiff international and local opposition.

The World’s View Challenge is a new series of five internationally graded one-day races all starting and finishing in the KwaZulu-Natal joint-capital city. The series starts on Saturday and runs until Thursday, and offers a generous helping of International Cycling Union (UCI) points and more than R650 000 in prizemoney.

This, combined with the warm South African weather has ensured the event has attracted two of the world’s top teams, Italian-based Liquigas and German-based Milram. Both teams have ProTour status, which means they can compete in cycling’s ‘Premier Division’ in all of the world’s major races.

Team Barloworld, the international South African-sponsored team of Tour de France stage winner, Robert Hunter, will also be at the World’s View Challenge, as will national teams from South Africa, Libya, Lesotho and Rwanda and an Intaka Tech South African Development team. South African professional teams like Neotel, Konica-Minolta and House of Paint are also in the mix, as is the Irish professional team with a South African name, Pezula Racing.

“It’s going to be some of the best racing this country has ever seen,” said MTN Energade Cycling team boss Douglas Ryder. “There are some very big international names here, particularly in the Liquigas team, while Barloworld is going to be super-motivated to transfer their Tour de France success onto home soil.”

According to Ryder, each of the five events in the World’s View Challenge is important to his MTN Energade team, which holds a Continental Team status with the UCI.

“These races are each graded 1.1 by the UCI and offer 80 points each for a win. That’s 400 points up for grabs which makes our job of defending the UCI Africa Tour leader’s jersey that much harder. The Giro del Capo, which is this country’s biggest international stage race only offers 40 points for the overall winner!”

White currently has 149 points with a 61-point lead in the UCI Africa Tour rankings. Two good days by a rival African rider during the World’s View Challenge could essentially topple White from the top of the rankings.

“We’re taking our whole 10-man squad to the World’s View Challenge,” said Ryder. “Only eight riders can compete each day, but we want to make sure we have the best combination on the road each day. We’re taking this event very seriously!”

Joining White for the World’s View Challenge are fellow big guns Malcolm Lange, the reigning South African Elite road champion and David George, the current Commonwealth Games road race silver medalist. Ian McLeod, Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald complete the complement of experienced riders on the squad, while current South African junior champion, Bradley Potgieter, former South African junior champion, Jonathan Kinnear, Juan van Heerden and Jay Thomson form the youth element of the team.

“We have a good mixture of experience and youth and that gives our team good depth,” said Ryder. “We’re going to need that depth because we’ll be up against some of the world’s top cyclists.”

MTN Energade squad for the Intaka Tech World’s View Challenge:
Nicholas White (captain), Malcolm Lange, David George, Ian McLeod, Bradley Potgieter, Jay Thomson, Neil MacDonald, Waylon Woolcock, Jonathan Kinnear, Juan van Heerden. Manager: Jacques Fullard.

UCI Africa Tour Rankings as at 25 January 2008
1 Nicholas White (RSA) 149 points
2 Adil Jelloul (MAR) 88
3 Johann Rabie (RSA) 70
4 Jay Thomson (RSA) 65
5 Jan Pivois (FRA) 61
6 Mohamed Ali Ahmed (LBA) 60
7 Mouhcine Lahsaini (MAR) 56
8 Peter van Agtmaal (NED) 52
9 Abdelkader Belmokhtar (ALG) 50
9 Sadrak Teguimaha (CMR) 50