Stander outstanding at MTB World Cup
9 June 2008
South Africa's young Olympic mountain bike hopeful, Burry Stander, astounded the international community by comprehensively winning the under-23 Cross Country title at the recent 4th MTB World Cup at Vallnord, Andorra.
The current South African and African cross-country mountain bike champion – ranked 25th in the world - finished over 4 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor – and only 9 seconds adrift of marathon World Champion and current world number-three, Christoph Sauser.
It marked the second top-10 finish in three outings for Stander. The result suggests he could be a surprise medal contender for South Africa at the Beijing Olympics.
Beat the best
Stander, riding for GT/Mr Price, was involved in a titanic battle with Sauser, holding the lead for a period, before being caught with only two kilometres to go. Significantly, though, he beat world number one Julian Absalon, Fredrik Kessiakoff (4th on the UCI rankings), Roel Paulissen (6th), and Jakob Fuglsang (7th).
The race venue was far from perfect for the Durban local, situated as it was atop the highest peak in Andorra at over 2 000 metres above sea level.
"I must admit, in our lead-up preparations for the race, myself and my team-mate, Todd Wells, could feel the serious lack of oxygen," said Stander.
"On the night before our race it started raining and pretty much only stopped an hour or two before our start, making the course slippery, but fortunately not too muddy."
After a tentative start, Stander soon displayed the controlled aggression he is renowned for. "Halfway through the third lap I moved into the second position and started turning the screws. I was pretty nervous at this stage, fearing that I was burning myself too early. However, I set a comfortable pace for myself and rode smoothly on the technical stuff."
He managed to narrow the gap to Sauser, in the lead, from 40 seconds to 10 seconds before eventually settling for second.
"Coming across the finish line in second was beyond my wildest dreams. The crowds are really incredible when you are battling for the lead up front," said an elated Stander.
Questions had been asked about Stander's build-up to the Olympics after he picked up an ITB syndrome (thigh) injury on the third stage of the Absa Cape Epic, which forced him to withdraw when he and Sauser were leading the race. His result in Andorra indicates that any concerns are a thing of the past, thanks to conservative treatment and adjustments to his bike.
The possibility of a finish on the Olympic podium now seems like more than a fantastical dream; it is a definite possibility and a medal would serve as massive motivation for South Africa's young mountain bikers, showing that South Africa, and its sportsmen and -women, are indeed alive with possibility.
Source: Adventure Zone