“A most enjoyable ride!”
This is how Burry Stander (Specialized/USN) described his winning performance in the pro-elite race of the African Cross Country MTB Championship at Jonkershoek, near Stellenbosch, on Saturday (12 February).
There are very good reasons why Stander enjoyed his race. For a change he had no punctures or any other mechanical problems which meant that he was not involved in a frantic chase to catch up with the race leaders.
“I had the near perfect race,” Stander said.
His winning time for the seven-lap race was 1 hour 42 minutes and 08 seconds. Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas) finished second in 1:48:08, Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) was third and Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka) fourth.
Despite his comfortable win, Stander had some praise for his rivals.
“The start of the race was certainly one of the best. Everybody raced flat out over the first kilometer. I had never experienced anything like that in a South African cross country race. I only managed to take the lead halfway through the first lap.
“From then on I just made sure that I rode at a comfortable, consistent pace until the end.”
Niyonshuti had extra motivation to ride just that little bit harder on Saturday. The reason was that Rwanda’s ambassador went to Stellenbosch specially to watch the race and, of course, he did not want to disappoint a government official.
By finishing fourth Niyonshuti made sure that he became the first Rwandan ever to qualify for Olympic Games.
The performance by James Reid (Mr Price/BMC), who won his first ever u.23 cross-country race, displayed true class. His winning time for the six-lap race was 1:36:33. Dominic Calitz was second in 1:37:08 and Adrian Louw third in 1:39:13.
Not surprisingly, Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka) won the pro-elite women’s cross-country race. She basically rode in front during the entire race for a winning time of 1:31:59.
As far as the women’s racing was concerned, the highlight was undoubtedly the performance by the 18-year-old Candice Neethling (Bizhub).
As with Reid, it was the first time she raced as an u.23 rider.
The moment the starter’s gun boomed Neethling set off like a rocket on fire, chasing Speedy. But, as misfortune would have it, her bike’s chain came off on one of the really technical rocky sections.
She had no choice but to stop and get off her bike to see if she could untangle the mess. It must have been a frustrating few minutes for Neethling, watching all the riders in the pro-elite group going past her. By the time she had her chain back where it belongs, she was stone last.
But Neethling refused to allow this setback to triumph over her. Like a seasoned professional she got back onto her bike and began her big chase.
“I just thought by myself that I might as well give it a go. Then slowly, one by one, I began to reel in the riders.”
Neethling’s gutsy performance was the talk of the spectators because, during the last three laps of the race, she basically achieved the same lap times as Speedy.
It is not surprising, therefore, that she won the u.23 race quite comfortably, beating Mariske Strauss by more than two minutes and Caitlin de Wet (Bizhub) by nearly five minutes.
Brendon Davids (Jeep) won the junior men’s race, with Gert Heyns second and Luke Roberts third.
There can be no arguing about who is the best mountain-bike coach in South Africa at the moment. It is definitely Johan Wykerd.
He coaches Reid (u.23 champion), Davids (junior champion), Neethling (u.23 champion) and Ashleigh Parker Moffat (junior champion) as well as Roberts (third in junior race).