South African national series race wide open in Stander's absence

When the cat is away, the mice will play. This will probably be the case on Saturday, April 10 during the second event of South Africa's MTN National Cross Country series which will take place in Pietermaritzburg.

Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) will not be competing. He has dominated the national series during the past two years, winning basically every race by more than five minutes. However, he departed for the United States on Thursday to compete in next week's Sea Otter Classic in California. The following week he will be in England to compete in a cross country World Cup race.

Stander's absence means that it will be anybody's race on Saturday, especially because many of the top riders are still recovering from their Cape Epic adventures. There is no clear-cut favourite.

Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price), who has proven himself to be Mr Consistency, is not prepared to take on the mantle of a pre-race favourite. His only comment was, "I will give it my all and who knows, maybe I will surprise myself." The reason why Swanepoel is not overly confident is that he has been battling with a flu-virus ever since the Sani2C.

Max Knox and Brandon Stewart (DCM) opted not to race because they will also compete in the Sea Otter Classic next week.

The 18-year old Rourke Croeser (DCM) is the only rider who is bold enough to say: "I am going to race to win." As a junior he was invincible.

Croeser is quietly confident that, in Stander's absence, the race is his to win or lose. "My passion has always been cross country racing. I just love the challenge."

Croeser's performance in the first MTN event in Alberton was a big disappointment. "I am the only one to blame. I made a stupid mistake that caused both my front and back wheels to puncture at the same time. Max Knox stopped to give me his wheel, but I had already lost too much time."

Croeser reckons that if there is one rider who can beat him on Saturday, it is Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas).

"Marc is really fast in cross country racing. I will have to keep my wits about me to stay in front of him."

However, the big question is whether Bassingthwaighte has recovered sufficiently after his royal battle with a stomach bug during the Cape Epic.

Another rider who might prevent Croeser from winning, is Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas). If there were to be a prize for the most improved cross country rider, Buys would be a certain contender.

As far as the women's racing is concerned, it is nearly a foregone conclusion that Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) will win. The only unanswered question is how big her winning margin will be.

Mariska Strauss (MTN-Energade), Karien van Jaarsveld (Nashua), Caitlin de Wet (Specialized) and Ezther Cluer will probably be the riders who will battle it out for the second place.

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