Burry Stander and Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing) are the favorites heading into the South African National Championships, also round three of the South Africa Cup, on Saturday in Pietermaritzburg.
Barring any kind of mishap, Stander, who is currently ranked 25th by the UCI, is expected to dominate the elite men's race on Saturday in search of his third consecutive national Elite title. The 20 year-old Mr. Price GT rider proved he is in good form with an impressive sixth place finish in the hillclimb time trial stage at last week's Giro del Capo road stage race where Stander finished 15th overall.
Six laps of the 6.3km course, with some challenging sections, should suit Stander. "I haven't ridden this new course yet, but I have walked it and can say that it's going to make the racing very hard. There is a lot of steep climbing. There will be big time gaps between riders in all categories," said Stander.
Although he knows he is the favorite, Stander was modest about his plans for Saturday. "I always try to go as fast as I can, whether it's racing against others, against myself or against the clock," said Stander. "The South African championship title is very important to me. My international team, GT, also rates national titles highly so I'm going all out to try and win on Saturday."
Stander's challengers will likely include Roan Exelby (Fullimput), Renay Goustra (Mongoose Red), Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) Johan van Zyl (Mr Price GT), Marc Bassingthwaighte (Trek Garmin), Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) and Jacques Rossouw.
The 31 year-old Speedy is the favorite for the women's race. Last year, Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep), claimed the national title ahead of Speedy, but since that day, Speedy has seldom been beaten, collecting the 2007 South African marathon title, the 2007 African cross-country title, racing to respectable finishes at four World Cup events in Europe and North America. Thus far, in both 2008 South Africa Cup races, she has been unbeatable.
However, Mundy is in peak race condition and will be performing on home turf. The women will race four laps for 704 meters of total climbing. Both riders are chasing Olympic selection with Speedy (ranked 40th by the UCI) leading the candidates.
"I've been focusing on cross-country-specific training this year and have good race condition," said Speedy. "I'm hoping to try and win the title again [She was the 2006 SA cross-country champion - ed.], but it's a tough course and Amy Jane and Sara are tough competitors so it should be interesting."