The first rider to check out the new course planned for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa from March 16-18 was young South African mountain bike legend Burry Stander, who predicted, "2012 will be my year."
The 24-year-old Specialized rider from Umtentweni on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast has taken a different approach to his racing this year, using scientific analysis and support from the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) in Cape Town, and feels that he has prepared and planned well to be able to make 2012 his most successful year yet.
Stander has three top priorities for 2012: the UCI MTB World Cup, the ABSA Cape Epic and the Olympic Games in London. "The World Cup is what I have in my sights right now," said Stander.
Stander set off to race the modified layout at the Cascades MTB Park in his native South Africa to clinically gather power output data so that his training, diet and preparations can be fine-tuned by the scientists at SSISA.
"It helps a lot," said Stander. "Not only in terms of planning, nutrition and recovery, but it gives me a lot of confidence and makes me even more motivated. Things didn't really go my way in 2011 - I had a lot of bad luck and made some poor decisions. This year I really feel that I can achieve what I set out to achieve."
Stander added that he is looking forward to competing in the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg because the support he gets from the crowd makes a major impact on his performance.
"It's phenomenal what a difference the support makes," said Stander. "Last year (when he bent his derailleur leaving him without crucial climbing gears and then crashed later in the race) I was seriously thinking about pulling out of the race. It was only because of the support that I was getting from the crowd that I carried on."
He still cherishes memories of his 2009 performance when he raced to third in the World Cup against a backdrop of hysterical crowd support at the Cascades course, and ranks that right up there with his U23 world championships triumph and World Cup win in Switzerland.
Stander was enthusiastic about the changes planned for the cross country course, converting it to a figure-eight shape with two technical and feeding zones in close proximity to each other.
"There is also more climbing, which is going to be very significant," said Stander. "This will favour the stronger climbers, and you may see a few new names featuring at the front this time around."
The UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg will take place at the Cascades MTB Park from March 16-18, 2012. For more information, visit www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za, and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.