South African cross-country Olympian mountain biker Burry Stander rode a calculated cross-country race on Saturday to claim victory at the sixth round of the RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Windham, New York.
The elite men’s race was always going to be an openly contested affair with the absence of World Cup Series leader Nino Schurter (SUI) and Julien Absalon (FRA). Hot and humid conditions plus a dry and dusty course with lots of climbing made for a hard race on the day as it took its toll on many of the riders, whilst mechanical failures affected a few more, blowing the race wide open.
But a steady cadence and a cool head kept Stander in the lead group early in the 6-lap, 31.90 km race, who held his lead after Manuel Fumic’s flat tyre misfortune, with Sergio Mantecon and Marco Fontana in hot pursuit. But on the last lap, Stander accelerated and built a substantial lead over his chasers, claiming the victory in 1:38:09 with Mantecon second 17 seconds behind and Fontana third.
Stander said: “For me it was a perfect race. I have always done well on this course, and always been in the lead group but then had problems at the end. It’s a course where it’s easy to crash; it’s very high speed. I tried to ride controlled and made sure that at the top of the climb I went into the singletrack first, and controlled the speed on the way down without taking any chances.
“Towards the end the endurance came into play and the heat, and it would be good for me. You really had to ride within your limits. For me it was perfect – everything just played out to plan. Thanks to the team, it’s been a long time coming.”
Confidence Boost for Buys
Of equal excitement was the way in which Philip Buys progressed through the field. Riding with the number 64 plate, Buys made substantial progress early in the race to get within the top 20 positions, finishing 15th.
Enjoying the nature of the track and finding the heat somewhat of an advantage, Buys said: “I’m super stoked with my 15th place – it felt unreal moving up all those places! I had a very relaxed start, which was long and open. From the second lap I settled into a comfortable rhythm and started passing riders throughout the race to end up in 14th, and lost one place on the last lap to finish 15th!
“Breaking the top 20 at a World Cup gives me huge confidence for any race! And the timing just before Olympics gives me so much more motivation to work hard and to know that I have the capability of a top 10 finish at Olympics!”
On Track For Career Best Results
High Performance consultant at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Dr. Jeroen Swart is working closely with the mountain bikers as the Olympic Coach for Mountain Biking, and shed some light on the progress of South Africa’s cross-country stars.
“With both Burry and Philip, the build up to the ’Games started after the 4th round of the World Cup (in May). Both athletes are in a building phase and were not expected to be in peak condition for the Canadian and US rounds of the World Cup,” said Swart. “They are both just starting the high intensity training phase of their preparation and will be in significantly better form in a few weeks time.
“However, with the Olympics now in focus and with a really good block of training completed in the first half of the year, both Burry and Philip are showing the greatest focus and their best training statistics to date. Their results at the Windham World Cup are a validation of the training data and show that we are on track for a career best result for both of them come the Olympics.”
Training is The Same But The Energy is Different For Neethling
Another fine performance was delivered in the U23 races with Candice Neethling achieving a third place in the women’s race, racing 4 Laps and a total distance of 21.60 km. Yolanda Neff (SUI) won the race in 1:23:03 with Austrian Rebecca Henderson second. James Reid finished in the top 10 in 8th place in the men’s race, completing 5 Laps, 26.75 km in 1:25:57. Rourke Croeser finished in 12th place, with Luke Roberts 18th and Gert Heyns 37th.
Neethling was ecstatic with her performance on the day, rising to the challenging dry and dusty course conditions and hot weather: “It’s been crazy! I am very pleased with my third place in Windham. The weather was hectic – we really didn’t expect it to be so hot and so humid. We kept on hydrating before race day, and even when we raced we took water from the feed zone to pour over ourselves to try and keep cool.
When asked about her series of excellent results at the World Cups, Candice continued: “I felt really good at the African Continental Championships and although the usual competition was not there, I took a lot of confidence from that day. For me it has been more about getting confidence and being more mentally prepared.
“I am really enjoying my racing. The training is pretty much the same but the energy is different now. With my Olympic nomination, it is all coming together at the right time. My other two races (5th in Nove Mesto (CZE) and 4th in La Bresse (FRA)) seemed to back up the selection, and now the 3rd place in Windham adds to that.”
The absent World Cup leader Nino Schurter retained his lead in the standings, by a slim 12 points over Stander, with world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy a distant third. The next RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup series is in France at the end of July.