Stander and Speedy top MTN XCO National Championships in Pretoria

Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) showed again that he is in a class of his own when he made riding away from his rivals look ‘oh so easy’ during the MTN South African Cross-country championship at the Fountains in Pretoria on Saturday, 17 July.

Apart from the first lap, during which Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) gave the u.23-world champion a run for his money, there was never any doubt about who was the strongest rider of the day.

Stander was a minute faster in every lap than any of the other riders. It is, therefore, not surprising that he finished 10 minutes ahead of the rider in the second place, Renay Groustra (GT), and 12 minutes before Matthys Beukes (Scott).

If one looks at his lap times, it is easy to see why he is currently considered to be one of the best cross-country riders in the world. The time difference between his first lap (15 minutes) and the eighth (and last) lap was a mere 16 seconds. Stander’s fastest lap was the second, which he completed in 14:29 minutes, and his slowest was the sixth, which took him 15:18 minutes to complete.

To put matters in perspective, it is interesting to note that Groustra completed his first lap in 15:56 and his last lap in 16:40, while Beukes took 15.39 for the first lap and 17:59 for the last.

Stander was satisfied afterwards with the way his race played out.

“I rode the near perfect race.  I made my only mistake when, during one of the laps, I focused too much on  passing the rider in front of me and not enough on where I was riding.  Suddenly my bike slid from underneath me, causing me to go down and get dirty. Luckily it was nothing serious.

“I used the race to push myself to the limit to find out what I am capable of, especially because I will compete in a World Cup event in Switzerland next week.  In World Cup races it is all about consistency.  Many riders even have the ability to achieve their fastest times during the last two laps.”

Stander seems to be developing into a true all-rounder because, during the previous weekend, he outsprinted Dean Edwards in a road race in KwaZulu-Natal.

Groustra said he decided not to go out ‘guns blazing’ right from the start.

“I did not know how my body would react to racing at high altitude, so I opted for a more conservative approach by riding at my own pace.

“This was my best result in a long time. After racing the Sani2Sea I suffered from glandular fever and had to take time off for some weeks. That was very frustrating, but it seems as if I am beginning to regain good form.”

Beukes was all smiles after his race.

“I think I have finally managed to break the ‘jinx’ that always made racing in Pretoria such a very unpleasant experience. This was the first time that I did not have any serious health problems. I actually enjoyed every minute of the race, which is important because if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you will never win.”

According to Beukes he had some mechanical problems during the last two and a half laps.

“My front derailleur broke, which meant that I could use only my small blade for the rest of the race. To make things worse, my bike’s chain kept dropping off every time I rode through a rock garden, but I did not get upset because that is mountain biking.”

Buys was only one second slower than Stander in the first lap, but his problems started from the third lap onwards.

“I made the mistake of going a little too fast into one of the corners and that caused my front tyre to jump off the rim. I had to stop to put in a new tube. Then I decided to rather play it safe.  So I changed wheels when I came to the technical zone, which also cost me time.  However, my worst problem was when I started to cramp during the last laps.”

Buys eventually finished 7th, 17 minutes slower than Stander.

During the junior men’s race, Arno du Toit (Specialized/Mr Price) set such a fast pace that he basically ‘killed’ all his rivals. He won, with his team-mate, James Reid, finishing second and Travis Walker third.

In the pro-elite women’s race Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) was in awesome form and she won by eight minutes.  Anina Aaron, the South African Yank, was second and Mariska Strauss (MTN-Energade) third.

As usual, Candice Neethling (DCM) had no trouble to win the race for junior girls.