Stander to lead South African Olympic mountain bike team

The selection process for the South African Olympic mountain bike team came down to the wire. At the end of it, three racers were named to the team headed to the 2012 London Olympic Games: Burry Stander, Philip Buys and Candice Neethling.

The 24-year-old Stander, who finished in 12th place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was always going to be in for the running for the 2012 London Olympic squad.

Racing cross country as a professional rider for Specialized and consistently ranked in the UCI world top 10, it was a foregone conclusion that Stander would receive automatic qualification. Stander is also listed on SASCOCs OPEX (operation excellence) program, and has had a lot of influence in building the qualification points to qualify a second male rider with his high world ranking.

The tipping point for South Africa's second male and single female to qualify for the London Games was the 2012 African Continental Championships that were held in Mauritius. Cycling South Africa's main objective was to push up South Africa's quota by enhancing its country ranking. Results in Mauritius coupled with the efforts of the South Africans campaigning overseas in UCI World Cups bettered its nation ranking to qualify two men and one woman.

Buys, 24, and Neethling, 20, both 2012 African Continental Champions, have been performing consistently well in World Cup races abroad and local National Cup races. Buys has been a consistent and strong rider for at least a year, with no other possible contenders beating him in cross country competition.

2008 Beijing Olympian Yolande Speedy was ruled out of contention following her unfortunate crash during the practice lap at the Pietermaritzburg World Cup earlier this year where she broke her wrist. Speedy's start to the 2012 season showed an in-form contender once again dominating the cross country podium races up until the World Cup in March.

Neethling's consistency has rapidly escalated her position in the UCI world rankings in 2012 as a result from touring in Europe this year. The 2009 junior cross country world championship bronze medallist is racing in only her second year in the U23 category yet claimed the 2012 African Continental Championship title, closely followed by fifth and fourth places in the U23 women's cross country races at the Czech Republic and French UCI World Cups respectively.

These three young riders will form part of a three-year development process, which will see them in contention for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and even able to qualify for 2020.

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