Stander the firm favourite for UCI African Continental XC Champs in Jonkershoek this weekend

After the South African Road Championship in Port Elizabeth, Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) will undoubtedly be the firm favourite to win the UCI African Continental Cross Country mountain bike championship in Jonkershoek, just outside of Stellenbosch, on Saturday (12 February).

By winning the silver medal in the men’s pro-elite race over155km, Stander proved that he is in awesome form. It is generally agreed that this year’s SA Road Championship was one of the hardest ever.

It is difficult to recall when last any rider from Africa has beaten Stander in a local cross-country race.

What sets Stander apart from Africa’s other top mountain bikers is not only his superior technical and climbing skills, but also his ‘never say die’ attitude when racing.

A look into the archives produced two classic examples of just that. Incidentally, both incidents happened at Mankele.

Mountain-biking fans might still remember the occasion when the cleat on one of Stander’s cycling shoes was torn loose during a cross-country race at Mankele.  He had to stop to borrow a pair of cycling shoes from a rider standing next to the course while his dad, Charles, ran to the car to fetch another pair of shoes for him.

Stander continued to race with the borrowed shoes, but after one lap he stopped again to change shoes. Despite all these maneuvers, he still managed to outride Brandon Stewart and Max Knox for an overall victory.

During last year’s SA Cross Country Championship at Mankele, the front wheel of Stander’s mountain bike was cut open by a sharp rock on one of the smooth, supposedly easy, riding sections,.

The cut was just so big that Stander was left with no other option than to take off the tyre completely and ride on the rim. He must have run or ridden on the rim for about two to three kilometers before he came to a technical section where he could change wheels. Despite losing about four minutes, Stander still managed to win.

This explains why he is at the moment the 7th best cross-country rider in the world, a former u.23 world cross country world champion and winner of two bronze medals at last year’s World Championships (cross country and marathon).

Therefore, it would seem that even if Stander should have a really bad day and the rest of the riders should produce a super-human effort, there would still be no guarantee that they would beat him.

The big, unanswered question remains ‘who will finish second on Saturday’.

A definite highlight could be the battle between Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) who won in George last year, Matthys Beukes last year’s winner in Pietermaritzburg and James Reid (Mr Price/BMC) last year’s junior champion.

All three of them are still u.23 and they are considered to be the up-and-coming generation of cross-country racing.

It will be really interesting to see how Reid performs in his first race as an u.23-rider. As a junior he managed to set lap times that were faster than those of the senior riders.

Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas) and Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka), as well as Brandon Stewart (DCM), are also able to achieve podium finishes on their good days.

Burry Stander in action at Jonkershoek

As far as the women are concerned, the main battle will be between Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka) and Mariske Strauss (Contego/Giant/Sludge).

Candice Neethling and Caitlin de Wet (Bizhub) could be the other two medal contenders.

The cross-country race consists of 4.2km laps with 111m of climbing per lap. The race starts on a slight uphill section that lasts for the first 250m. Then the riders turn left onto a jeep track and go straight into the first climb.

The Feed/Technical assist zone will be on the right, just before the climb. There will be only one assist zone.

Just before the riders reach the top of the climb, the track turns to the right and changes into the first single-track section which is somewhat rocky and slightly uphill.

The next challenge presents itself when the riders go into another single-track section which entails riding through some rocky sections and a steep little climb before reaching the top of the course.

From there it will be downhill with some more challenging rocky sections, then across the jeep track again and into the bottom half of the course which flows really nicely. But beware, there are some tricky corners. If you should go into them too fast you might crash.