South Africa mountain bike medal hopes lie with Stander

Burry Stander and Candice Neethling will represent South Africa at the Olympic Games cross country mountain bike races this weekend in London. Stander, who won the Windham round of the World Cup in June, is a medal contender.

In preparation for the Olympics, Stander focused on cross country racing in 2012, following the advice of his new coach Dr. Jeroen Swart. He skipped participation in the marathon races he usually contends each season.

"I want to be in the best possible condition I can for the Olympics," said Stander.

Stander began mountain biking at age 10 with his dad and older brothers on their farm on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. He steadily progressed through the ranks and won the first of his South African and African titles in 1999 in the U13 category.

He made a big impression by winning races in the US national series in 2005 and was signed with the GT Factory Team in 2006. Stander went on to claim the 2008 U23 world Cup series title, finished second in the U23 world championships and finished 15th at the Beijing Olympic Games that year.

Specialized Racing signed Stander onto its international squad in 2009, when he went on to win the U23 world championship title in Canberra.

In 2010, Stander finished third in the elite world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada and third in the marathon Worlds in St. Wendel, Germany.

Last year and this year, he also won the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, with his teammate Christoph Sauser.

Stander will race with South African teammate Philip Buys on Sunday. Coach Swart said, "With the Olympics in focus, both Burry and Philip (Buys) are showing the greatest focus and their best training statistics to date - we are on track for a career best result for both of them come the Olympics."

Candice Neethling will be South Africa's sole representative in the elite women's cross country race on Saturday. Neethling, a U23 rider, won the bronze medal in the junior women's race at the 2009 world championships.

This season, she joined BMC-SA and has been touring Europe while participating in World Cups and UCI races.

Victory at the 2012 African Continental Championship in Mauritius early in May qualified Neethling for the Olympic Games.

"I felt really good. I took a lot of confidence from that day. For me it has been more about getting confidence and being more mentally prepared," said Neethling.

"The aim was to place in the top 10 in the U23 category in the world for 2012, and to stand on the podium at the UCI World Champs in Pietermaritzburg next year, but it is fantastic to see results now already!" said Neethling's coach Johann Wykerd of her World Cup podium performances this season. She was fifth in Nove Mesto, fourth in La Bresse and third in Windham.

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