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Burry Stander, pictured here in action at the 2011 UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, is focussing firmly on an Olympic medal this year.
South African anticipates the start of the cross country racing season
Virtually everything Burry Stander does between now and August will be part of his preparation to try and win a medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The 24-year-old multiple South African and African mountain bike champion is one of a handful of South African athletes tipped to be in with a very good shot at a podium place in August in London.
The former under 23 world champion has narrowed his focus compared to previous years to ensure he is as well prepared as possible for the global showpiece, which takes place in Essex on August 12.
While most of South Africa's top mountain bike racers are preparing for a season-opening showdown at the first round of the national marathon series in Barberton, in the Mpumalanga province on Saturday, Stander is focusing on the more explosive discipline of Olympic cross country, committing to compete in as many cross country races as possible, starting with a regional race in Pretoria, in the Gauteng province.
The cross country discipline of mountain bike racing - the sport's only Olympic discipline - follows a lap-racing format, in which events last one hour, 45 minutes, demanding a high level of intensity and skill. Marathon and stage racing on the other hand, is more a test of endurance and recovery, with races/stages taking an average of four to five hours to complete.
"My main goal for 2012 is the London Olympics. Everything else is secondary," said Stander. "I will once again team up with Christoph (Sauser) for the Cape Epic to defend our title, but that's the only pre-Olympics deviation I'll make. I will do one marathon and one short stage race to prepare for the Cape Epic, but the rest of the time I'll be focused only on cross country.
The ABSA Cape Epic is the world's premier mountain bike stage race. The 2012 edition will take place in the Western Cape province of South Africa from March 25 to April 1. Stander's Swiss teammate, Sauser, is the current UCI marathon world champion and a former UCI cross country world champion.
But prior to the Cape Epic, Stander, who races for Team Specialized, will once again be the centre of attention for local fans at the opening round of the 2012 UCI World Cup at Cascades, Pietermaritzburg on March 17-18.
At the end of 2011, Stander occupied sixth place in the UCI rider rankings. He'll be looking to improve on that in the build-up to the London Games though and will compete in all seven rounds of the 2012 UCI Cross Country World Cup Series, which this year, will conclude before the Olympic Games.
In the past, Stander has raced from January through to November using his ability to excel at both cross country and marathon racing to his advantage, especially in his home country, where marathon racing is extremely popular. But, on the advice of new coach, Dr Jeroen Swart, he ended his 2011 racing year earlier than usual as part of his Olympic preparation and is skipping his usual early-year marathon races.
"I want to be in the best possible condition I can for the Olympics. That requires more focus on cross country training and racing and choosing my races more carefully. There are three years between Olympics to focus on other goals. This year, it's all about the Olympics for me," said Stander, who won his provincial road cycling championships this past weekend.
"I'm working very closely with Dr Swart, who is an experienced cycling coach and a former top mountain bike racer himself and it's definitely paying off. I've also been fine-tuning my training and racing nutrition in conjunction with USN, whose CEO, Albe Geldenhuys, is also a competitive mountain biker and takes a keen personal interest in my nutrition. I'm very positive about this year. Now I just want the racing to start!"