Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) won the South African MTN National Cross Country elite race at Mankele on Saturday in dramatic style. It played out almost as a carbon copy repetition of the way in which Stander had won the same event in the past.
Last year, Stander won at Mankele despite the fact that the cleat on one of his cycling shoes was torn loose during the race, forcing him to stop twice to change shoes. Stander started his race on Saturday in emphatic style, displaying why he is the current Under 23 World Champion. He completed the first lap in 17 minutes and 34 seconds and was the only rider who managed to complete a lap in less than 18 minutes. After two laps, when he led Matthys Beukes (Scott) by almost two minutes, then disaster struck.
Then, on one of the smooth, supposedly easy, riding sections, the front wheel of Stander's mountain bike was cut open by a sharp rock.
"That is mountain biking. You sometimes suffer a setback when you least expect it," said Stander. "I tried to 'plug' the tyre, but to no avail. The cut was just too big. That left me no choice but to take off the tyre completely and ride on the rim. I think I must have run or ridden on the rim for about two to three kilometers to get to the technical section at the top of the mountain where Cherise (Taylor) was waiting with a new wheel."
"Luckily for me, my bad luck occurred on one of the steepest sections of the route, which meant that I did not lose too much time. I think I probably lost about three to four minutes."
Beukes, who impressed with his consistent riding style, managed to take the lead after lap three, but Stander rode like a man possessed and with lap times of 18:14 and 18:15 he managed to catch up with and pass Beukes within two laps. From then on there was no way of stopping Stander.
Stander's slowest time was 18:57, which he rode during the seventh lap. This was still one of the six fastest lap times of the day. He won in two hours, 13 minutes and 37 seconds. Beukes was second in 2:16:30, Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price) finished third in 2:20:58 and Paul Cordes (MTN-Energade) fourth in 2:23:28.
According to Stander, the reason for his victory was that, after he had punctured, he realized that he had to stay calm. "Nothing could be gained by panicking because panic is usually a certain way to disaster. I could have punctured again or could even have taken a tumble."
Beukes said he was under no illusion when he was told about Stander's bad luck. "The worst mistake I could have made when Burry punctured was to go flat out in an effort to win the race. I knew that Burry would catch up with me again. There is a good reason why he is the under 23 World Champion."
"So I just kept on riding at the consistent pace with which I felt comfortable. To finish seconds behind Burry is, as far as I am concerned, a good result, and I am very pleased with my consistent lap times."
Bryce Munro won the u.23 men's race, with Dominic Calitz second and Adriaan Louw third.
Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) won the pro-elite women's race, with Mariske Strauss (MTN-Energade) second and Caitlin de Wet (Specialized/Mr Price) third.
Even though the event took place on a different Saturday and at a different venue, as far as women's mountain biking was concerned, everything else remained exactly the same. Once they get going, there seems to be no way of stopping Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) and Mariske Strauss (MTN-Energade).
It was the seventh time during the past few weeks that the S (peedy)&S(trauss) factor totally dominated a race.
Right from the start, there was no doubt about the outcome. Speedy's lap time for the first lap was 21 minutes and 33 seconds and Strauss's 21:43, while Caitlin de Wet (Specialized/Mr Price), who finished third overall, completed her first lap in 24 minutes and 55 seconds.
Speedy never relented and she functioned like a well-oiled machine for the duration of the race, increasing her lead with every lap. Afterwards she described her race as "just one of those days when nothing could go wrong". She was also full of praise for the Mankele course, calling it "definitely one of the best".
According to Speedy, she and Strauss were involved in a titanic battle during the first lap, taking turns riding in front, but this came to an abrupt end during the second lap when Strauss crashed in spectacular fashion.
"I have no excuse for what happened. The moment my concentration slipped, my foot caught a rock and I went down very hard," Strauss said. "I got back on my bike as quickly as I could but, because I landed quite hard on my chest, I had breathing problems during the next two laps. So I decided to ride at a comfortable, consistent speed and to concentrate on staying focused."
"Yolandé rode an amazing race and deserved to win."
De Wet said her race started badly. "My mountain bike's chain kept dropping off during the first lap. Because of this hazard, I not only lost time but also dropped back in position. Once I managed to sort out my mechanical problems, I had a good race. I think I caught up with and passed a rider during each of the remaining laps."
Cherise Taylor (Nashua) should feel satisfied with her performance in what was her first serious cross country race. She finished fourth overall.
Many spectators were surprised that there was not a single speck of mud or dirt on Taylor's clothing after she had finished.
Charles Stander, Burry's dad, said jokingly to Taylor that the lack of dirt was proof that she did not ride fast enough during the race. However, Taylor quite honestly admitted that she did not realize that cross country racing could be so hard.
"In cross country racing, you don't ever get time to relax. Even the downhill sections made for hard racing. I cannot even begin to describe how sore I was after my race. My whole body - hands, arms, legs - was aching."
According to Taylor, she opted for a more conservative approach during the race. "I made sure that I did not take any unnecessary risks. I think I severely frustrated Candice Neethling during the first lap when I jumped off my bike right in front of her on a technical section."
In spite of the pain she suffered, South Africa's cleanest women mountain biker plans to compete in cross country events again.
Junior men and women
"Absolutely brilliant" is the only way to describe the performance of James Reid (Specialized/Mr Price) when he won the junior men's race. When asked, before the race, what a rider should do to win at Mankele, Reid replied that any rider who was serious about winning, should go out hard right from the start. That was exactly what he did on Saturday.
Reid took the lead and never relented, pushing himself to the limit during all of the five laps. His time for the first lap was 19 minutes and 3 seconds.
To put Reid's performance into perspective, it should be mentioned that Burry Stander (17:34), Matthys Beukes (18:33), Bryce Munro (18:41), Paul Cordes (18:51) and Craig Paul (18:53) were the only elite riders who managed to set faster lap times on Saturday.
It is also interesting to note that, after five laps of racing, Reid was fourth overall in the elite race, which is not bad considering that he is only 17 years old.
Reid has certainly proven this season that he is a star in the making. An important challenge for the decision makers of Mountain Biking South Africa is to ensure that Reid is managed properly during the next few years to make sure that he will represent South Africa at the Olympic Games.
Just imagine how exciting it would be if Stander, Reid, and even Roberts (who finished second in the junior race) could represent South Africa at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
The 17-year-old Roberts (Wsquared/Subaru), who was equally impressive on Saturday, completed the first lap in 19:29, which was also one of the top-10 fastest lap times on the day.
Reid won the race in 1:39:33, Roberts's time was 1:42:16 and Arno du Toit (Specialized/Mr Price) was third in 1:44:10.
Reid said after the race that he had learned a long time ago that there was no short cut to success. "No matter what you are doing, whether it is studying or racing, you have to put in the long hours. What certainly counts in my favour is that I am naturally competitive. It does not matter what I am doing, it is always important for me to succeed.
"After my victory at Mankele it seems possible for the first time that I might get straight As in my matric exams and also be a winner on my mountain bike."
According to Roberts, he knew from the beginning that it would be tough to beat Reid at Mankele.
"Unfortunately I did not have the best of days. I crashed, bashing my head quite badly. It was only during the third lap that I regained my composure and began to get stronger and stronger. But all credit to James. He rode a brilliant race."
Du Toit impressed with his never-say-die attitude.
He certainly did not have the best of starts. Even during the first lap his mountain bike's front derailler began to give him problems. To make things worse, he also experienced problems with chain suck, which caused him to drop back to about the eighth position. But once Du Toit managed to get his bike back in working order, he started to pass one rider after another.
As expected, Candice Neethling (DCM) won the junior women's race quite comfortably. Emily Clark finished second, 10 minutes behind Neethling, and Simone Vosloo was third, 30 minutes slower.
Neethling can feel satisfied with her performance. During the first three laps she was third overall, behind Speedy and Strauss. It was only during the last lap, when her bike's gears began to slip, that she started to lose time.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Burry Stander (RSA)||2:13:37|
|2||Matthys Beukes (RSA)||0:02:53|
|3||Ben Melt Swanepoel (RSA)||0:07:21|
|4||Paul Cordes (RSA)||0:09:51|
|5||Renay Groustra (RSA)||0:10:03|
|6||Bryce Munro (RSA)||0:10:39|
|7||Craig Paul (RSA)||0:11:21|
|8||Nico Bell (RSA)||0:14:46|
|9||Dominic Calitz (RSA)||0:15:19|
|10||Adriaan Louw (RSA)||0:15:43|
|11||Andrew Warr (RSA)||0:16:54|
|12||Justice Makhale (RSA)||0:19:18|
|13||Lourens Luus (RSA)||0:23:25|
|14||J P Jung (RSA)|
|15||Colin Brent (RSA)|
|16||Martinus Esmeyer (RSA)|
|17||Louis-Bresler Knipe (RSA)|
|18||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa)|
|19||Jason Peach (RSA)|
|20||Mark Bridges (RSA)|
|21||Darryn Purtell (RSA)|
|22||Hilton Frost (RSA)|
|DNF||Jacques Rossouw (RSA)|
|DNF||Justin Victor (RSA)|
|DNF||Dwayne Klingbiel (RSA)|
|DNF||Matthys Koekemoer (RSA)|
|DSQ||Shaun Craig Silver (RSA)|
|DNS||David Maartens (RSA)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolande Speedy (RSA)||1:50:09|
|2||Mariske Strauss (RSA)||0:04:21|
|3||Caitlin De Wet (RSA)||0:10:37|
|4||Cherise Taylor (RSA)||0:13:28|
|5||Melanie Palframan (RSA)||0:26:25|
|6||Alexis Zorab (RSA)||0:31:33|
|7||Samantha Sanders (RSA)|
|8||Claudia Von Tutschek (RSA)|
|DNS||Adele Drake (RSA)|
|DNS||Helen Squirrell (RSA)|