South Africa will host its cross country national championships at the Pretoria Fountains on Saturday, July 17. Given the non technical nature of the course, it should be a close race.
"The course is fast and technical with no serious climbs on the route. This means that there will probably not be big time gaps between the race leaders," predicted the top favorite and Under 23 World Champion Burry Stander (Specialized / Mr. Price). "That will make for exciting racing."
Saturday will be the last time South African cycling fans will be able to see Stander in action for a while. Next week he will be back in Europe to compete in World Cup races. His first World Cup race will be the one in Switzerland that he won last year.
The general consensus is that Stander ought to win Saturday's elite race quite easily. However, being the professional he is, he does not take anything for granted.
"I will be honest. I want to win because it is always an honour for me to compete for a South African title. But for me, it will not be just about winning. Since the MTN event in Mankele, I have not raced at all, but I did a lot of training. It is now important for me to test myself to the limit to see what I am capable of at the moment."
At present Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) and Matthys Beukes (Scott) are the only two riders who are capable of giving Stander a run for his money on Saturday. In Stander's absence they dominated the MTN series. Beukes won in Pietermaritzburg and Buys in George.
Buys agrees with Stander that Saturday's racing will be exciting.
"We will race on long singletrack sections and through sharp corners, which will make it difficult to pass the riders in front of us. Therefore, what happens during the first few minutes after the start will be decisive. You don't want to get stuck behind a bunch of slow riders."
According to Buys, he is prepared to challenge Stander.
"But I also have to keep the bigger picture in mind. The fact that I am still Under 23 means that my first goal will be to ensure that I win the South African Under 23 race. This will be tough because Rourke Croeser and Bryce Munro are both in good form."
Beukes is worried about racing in Pretoria.
"I have never had a good race in Pretoria. I don't know why. Maybe it is because I find it difficult to adapt to racing at the high altitude. The funny thing is that I always become ill when I arrive in Pretoria.
"Hopefully it won't happen again this weekend. But I promise that, if I do feel good, I will certainly make a race of it."
If Max Knox (DCM) and Brandon Stewart (DCM) should decide to take part in the race, they might just be the two riders who upset the proverbial applecart. During the past few weeks they have been competing internationally where they have achieved some good results.
Another rider who is sure to be up front with the race leaders again, is Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized/Mr Price).