Image Courtesy Raymond Cox/mirra.co.za
Beijing Olympians Burry Stander and Yolande Speedy showed that four years later they’re still South Africa’s top mountain bike racers in the Olympic Cross-Country (XCO) discipline, winning the Elite men and women’s races respectively at the opening round of the 2012 South African National Cup Series in Durbanville, near Cape Town on Saturday.
Stander (Specialized USN) hasn’t been beaten in a domestic XCO race in South Africa since 2003 and he ensured he maintained that dominance by finishing more than one-and-a-half-minutes ahead of runner-up Phillip Buys (Contego). Speedy (Epic Sports USN) hasn’t raced XCO for more nine months, but showed she’s still the country’s finest female lap racer, finishing well clear of her rivals.
Marathon and stage racing are extremely popular in South Africa, but with 167 days until the start of the 2012 London Games and four weeks until the opening round of the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) World Cup Series in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, XCO racing is enjoying more attention that normal as riders eagerly vie for national series points and racing sharpness.
At this stage, only Stander is expected to be on the start line in London, but an armful of UCI points from South African men between now and 23 May could see a second men’s XCO Games slot secured, while the women have an outside chance of securing one start spot in London. A series of three new international point-scoring XCO races over the next few weeks in South Africa will help their cause.
“This was one of the better nationals I’ve ever been to,” remarked a satisfied Stander. “The course was very good, offering a good balance of rocks and sand and ascents and descents. It was also extremely spectator friendly and the crowd that came to watch was great.”
Stander and Buys quickly moved to the front on the opening lap of the 4.6km circuit and then traded the lead until Lap 4, when Stander powered clear on his own, smoothly clearing every obstacle on the rugged course and showing the quality that took him to the Under-23 world title in 2009.
“Phil (Buys) has definitely upped his level this year and he tends to start very strong so I was happy to bide my time until the latter part of the race and try and gain an advantage there,” said Stander. “It was one of my most comfortable races ever. I honestly can’t say that I made a single mistake, which, on a course that varied and challenging, is rare. And one of my fastest laps was the last lap so it shows my conditioning is very good.”
Stander, who started 2012 ranked No. 6 in the world, put his sharp form down to the fact that he’s “revisited everything” to be his best in a year that he’s made an Olympic medal a priority. He was the only rider to break 12 minutes for a lap on three occasions, one being his seventh and final lap.
“I’ve honed my nutrition, both on and off the bike, I’ve hired a coach, Dr Jeroen Swart, who has prescribed me more intensity sessions than what I did when I was self-coached. And because I have to answer to someone, I do them all properly! And I’ve re looked at my bicycle’s components, opting for more robust tyres and parts over super-light ones. I’ve essentially spent more time and effort on improving my body’s performance than my bike’s performance,” smiled the multiple South African and African champion.
There was a big group of riders doing battle for third place around two minutes behind Buys and Stander. Namibia’s Marc Bassingthwaighte eventually claimed third ahead of Matthys Beukes and Rourke Croeser (Orange Monkey Cannondale), who was the first Under-23 home.
In the women’s race, Speedy took the lead after the first kilometre and never relinquished it. Sara Muhl claimed the runner-up spot, just over five minutes back, and Samantha Sanders was third.
“It’s the first cross-country race I’ve done in ages and it went very well. It was my first XCO race on a 29-inch wheel bike and I really have to say it was amazing! It rolled over the rough terrain a lot better than a 26-inch bike would have and I really felt strong on the climbs too,” said Speedy, who spent a large part of 2011 recovering from surgery to ease the constriction of an iliac artery.
“Unfortunately there’s still not a lot of depth in Elite women’s XCO racing, but it’s good to see the Under-23 and Junior ranks looking more solid this year. I’ll be focusing mostly on XCO racing for the first half of the year and am looking forward to the international races coming up in KwaZulu-Natal over the next few weeks,” said Speedy, who was the only woman able to break 16 minutes for a lap (four of her five laps were under 16 minutes).
SA XCO CUP – Round 1, Durbanville
1 Burry Stander (Specialized USN)
2 Phillip Buys (Contego)
3 Marc Bassingthwaighte (Merida adidas)
4 Matthys Beukes
5 Rourke Croeser (Orange Monkey Cannondale)
1 Yolande Speedy (Epic Sports USN)
2 Sara Muhl
3 Samantha Sanders
4 Nedene Cahill
5 Julia Colvin