SOUTH AFRICA’S THOMSON WINS IN USA

    South African professional road cyclist, Jay Thomson, put his hand up high for 2012 Olympic selection when he won the 147km third stage of the 34th annual Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Saturday.

    South African Jay Thomson celebrates his victory on Stage 3 of the Joe Martin stage race in Arkansa, USA on Saturday. Photo credit: Lyne Lamoureux

    The 25-year-old Johannesburg resident powered clear of his three breakaway companions to claim victory in the longest stage of the prestigious four-day event in a time of 04hr 00min 54sec. Alfredo Cruz (Chipotle) and Louis Crosby (Pure Black Racing) completed the podium positions in second and third respectively.

    “It was great to win again,” said Thomson of his first victory of 2011. “I’ve felt my form improving over the last few weeks and really just needed to get into the right move at the right time. Also, this event is part of the National Racing Calendar (NRC) and one of my team’s objectives is to be the top-ranked team in the NRC this year, so helping achieve that is very important to me.”

    The multiple South African and African champion in the individual time trial has developed into a strong allround road racer over the past few years and is one of the most reliable workhorses on the US-based Bissell professional team, often assisting the team’s higher profile sprinters and stage race specialists to win.

    Getting the stage win was a priority for us,” Bissell Directeur Sportif Omer Kem told Cyclingnews.com. “We’ve been fighting Mancebo for the entire season and he is just very strong. We wanted to come out of this race with as much as we possibly could with NRC points, taking a stage win. To see Jay win a stage is huge for us because he does so much work for the team.”

    Spain’s Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com), a five-time Tour de France top-10 finisher, leads the tour going into Sunday’s final stage, an 85-minute criterium. Thomson’s teammate, Ben Jacques-Maynes, is lying second overall, seven seconds adrift of Mancebo.

    The win for Thomson comes at a good time with North America’s highest profile professional race, the Tour of California, starting on 15 May.

    “This certainly boosts my confidence of having a good ride at the Tour of California. Obviously I won’t be in contention for the General Classification, but I’m definitely aiming for a stage win or stage podium.”

    Thomson was one of four South Africans who were left without a team after the new Australian Pegasus team was disbanded after it was denied a ProTour spot by the International Cycling Union in December 2010. The ProTour is professional cycling’s version of a ‘premier division’.

    Thomson, along with compatriots Robert Hunter, Darren Lill and Daryl Impey were forced to pursue emergency Plan B options to find employment for 2011. After having raced for the Australian Fly V team, based predominantly in the USA during 2010, Thomson’s reputation as a strong allrounder helped him secure a late spot on Team Bissell for 2011.

    Should South Africa send a men’s road team to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Thomson is certain to be in the initial squad and possibly the final selection. His international experience, allround strength and relentless commitment count heavily in his favour. And the ability to win international level races, as he did on Saturday, certainly doesn’t do his chances any harm.