It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) will win the MTN South African elite cross country race for men at Mankele on Saturday, June 12. Even if Stander should have a really bad day, the rest of the riders would have to produce a super-human effort to beat him. And, even then, there is no guarantee that they will win.
Mountain biking fans might still remember the occasion when the cleat on one of Stander's cycling shoes was torn loose during a 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. In spite of all this, he still managed to outride Brandon Stewart and Max Knox to achieve an overall victory.
During last year's African Cross Country Championshp, which also took place at Mankele, Stander still qualified to race as an under 23 rider, which meant that his race started five minutes after that of the elites. He nevertheless managed to catch up with the elites and pass all of them.
According to Stander, Mankele is his favourite cross country course.
"The old Mankele course was the nearest that you could get to a World Cup course. If I understood the organizers correctly, they have changed the course slightly for Saturday's event to make it easier for the less experienced riders. But it will still be an exciting race."
Philip Buys and Marc Bassingthwaighte (both Garmin-adidas) who achieved podium finishes in each of the MTN Cross Country events so far this year, will not compete on Saturday. They are racing in Germany.
Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade), who made a comeback to cross country racing at the MTN event at George, will also be absent. He is a member of the South African road team that is currently competing in an eight-day tour in Spain.
Matthys Beukes (Scott), who won the MTN Cascade race, is the only rider who, at least on paper, might be able to stay with Stander for a while.
However, Beukes realizes that he will need lots of luck to have a chance of beating Stander.
"Actually, my main focus on Saturday will not be to win. After having withdrawn from the event in George, I am just hungry to race again. I want to enjoy myself on the course."
Last year Beukes finished second, after Stander, in the under 23 race of the African Championship.
Rourke Croeser, who is not racing for DCM any longer, will have something to prove on Saturday. It is, therefore, safe to predict that he will battle it out with Beukes for the second place. Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/MR Price) might be the rider who could spoil their fun.
In spite of the fact that he seems to have no real opposition, Stander is taking Saturday's race seriously.
"I never take anything for granted. It is always important for me to go out hard when I am racing. I will test myself to the maximum during every lap on Saturday to see what I am capable of. It will be good preparation for my next World Cup race."
Stander will also take part in the MTN South African Cross Country Championship in Pretoria before he returns to Europe to compete in more World Cup events.