MTN Energade professional, Nicholas White, survived a gritty five-day stage race in rugged Central Africa to retain his lead in the UCI Africa Tour, the continent’s most prestigious road cycling competition.

La Tropicale Amissa Bongo Ondimba, or essentially, The Tour of Gabon, which holds a lofty 2.1 rating on the International Cycling Union (UCI) calendar, took White and his MTN Energade team to the tropical west coast of the continent during the past week, where their major competition came in the form of European-based teams.

With Gabon being a former French colony, it wasn’t surprising to see the two French-based ProTour teams, Francais des Jeux and Bouygues Telecom, as well as French Continental team Bretagne Armor Lux on the start line. Mitsubishi-Jartazi, a Pro Continental team from Estonia was also in the hunt for success, as were some national teams from other African countries.

With a 2.1 rating, the event offered double the points that are on offer at upcoming 2.2-rated South African tours, Giro del Capo and Tour of South Africa, making it attractive to MTN Energade, which have identified the UCI Africa Tour title as one of their goals for 2008. But White, who eventually finished fourth overall, was forced to fight for every single point in what turned out to be a fiercely competitive event.

The MTN Energade team captain was in the lead break on Stage 1 but missed the stage-winning, six-rider move on Stage 2, jumping clear of the chase pack to claim seventh place on the stage and third place in the General Classification. On Stage 4, White was relegated to fourth place on GC, courtesy of the time bonus gained by stage winner, Rony Martias (Bouygues Telecom).

White’s teammates, Malcolm Lange and Jay Thomson came agonisingly close to stage wins, with Lange finishing second on Stage 1 and Thomson getting edged out on the line on Stage 3. Lange also wore the King of the Mountains jersey after Stage 1. Neil Macdonald, Bradley Potgieter and Thomson were prominent in the Intermediate Sprints competition with Macdonald eventually winning it with 12 points to Thomson’s 10.

Both White and Thomson were awarded the Most Combative Rider award after stages in which they were in the leading break, underlining the team’s hunger for success. But in the end the European teams proved just too strong. MTN Energade was the top African team in fourth place overall in the team competition but more significantly, White extended his lead in the UCI Africa Tour competition.

The UCI Africa Tour now moves to South Africa with the Intaka Tech World’s View Challenge in Pietermaritzburg from 2-7 February where MTN Energade riders will face a very strong challenge from both European and South African teams.

2008 Tour of Gabon
Final General Classification
1 Lilian Jegou (FRA) Francaise Des Jeux 12hrs54min47sec
2 Yann Pivois (FRA) Bretagne Armor Lux @ 17sec
3 Rony Martias (FRA) Bouygues Telecom @ 2min06sec
4 Nicholas White (RSA) MTN Energade @ 2:15
5 Anthony Roux (FRA) Francaise Des Jeux @ 2:34
6 Giovanni Bernaudeau (FRA) Bouygues Telecom @ 2:38
7 James Vanlandschoot (BEL) Mitsubishi-Jartazi @ 3:30
8 Malcolm Lange (RSA) MTN Energade @ 3:43
9 Stephane Bonsergent (FRA) Bretagne Armor Lux @ 7:16
10 Mickaël Cherel (FRA) Francaise Des Jeux @ 7:33