Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) showed again that he is in a class of his own by making riding away from his rivals look "oh so easy" during the South African cross country championship at the Fountains in Pretoria on Saturday, July 17.
Apart from the first lap, during which Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) gave the under 23 World Champion a run for his money, there was never any doubt about who was the strongest rider of the day.
Stander was a minute faster in every lap than any of the other riders. It is, therefore, not surprising that he finished 10 minutes ahead of the rider in the second place, Renay Groustra (GT), and 12 minutes in front of Matthys Beukes (Scott).
Looking at his lap times, it is easy to see why he is currently considered to be one of the best cross country riders in the world. The time difference between his first lap (15 minutes) and the eighth (and last) lap was a mere 16 seconds. Stander's fastest lap was the second, which he completed in 14:29 minutes, and his slowest was the sixth, which took him 15:18 minutes to complete.
To put matters in perspective, it is interesting to note that Groustra completed his first lap in 15:56 and his last lap in 16:40, while Beukes took 15.39 for the first lap and 17:59 for the last.
Stander was satisfied afterwards with the way his race played out.
"I rode the near perfect race. I made my only mistake when, during one of the laps, I focused too much on passing the rider in front of me and not enough on where I was riding," said Stander. "Suddenly my bike slid from underneath me, causing me to go down and get dirty. Luckily it was nothing serious.
"I used the race to push myself to the limit to find out what I am capable of, especially because I will compete in a World Cup event in Switzerland next week. In World Cup races it is all about consistency. Many riders even have the ability to achieve their fastest times during the last two laps."
Stander seems to be developing into a true all-rounder because, during the previous weekend, he outsprinted Dean Edwards in a road race in KwaZulu-Natal.
Groustra said he decided not to go out guns blazing right from the start.
"I did not know how my body would react to racing at high altitude, so I opted for a more conservative approach by riding at my own pace.
"This was my best result in a long time. After racing the Sani2Sea, I suffered from glandular fever and had to take time off for some weeks," said Groustra. "That was very frustrating, but it seems as if I am beginning to regain good form."
Beukes was all smiles after his race.
"I think I have finally managed to break the jinx that always made racing in Pretoria such a very unpleasant experience. This was the first time that I did not have any serious health problems. I actually enjoyed every minute of the race, which is important because if you don't enjoy what you are doing, you will never win."
According to Beukes, he had some mechanical problems during the last two and a half laps.
"My front derailleur broke, which meant that I could use only my small chainring for the rest of the race," said Beukes. "To make things worse, my bike's chain kept dropping off every time I rode through a rock garden, but I did not get upset because that is mountain biking."
Buys was only one second slower than Stander in the first lap, but his problems started from the third lap onwards.
"I made the mistake of going a little too fast into one of the corners and that caused my front tyre to jump off the rim," said Buys. "I had to stop to put in a new tube. Then I decided to rather play it safe. So I changed wheels when I came to the technical zone, which also cost me time. However, my worst problem was when I started to cramp during the last laps."
Buys eventually finished seventh, 17 minutes slower than Stander.
Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) showed that she still reins supreme as the queen of South African women's mountain biking, when she won the women's championship title.
Apart from a crash during the first lap, Speedy was in total control and she increased her lead on her rivals with each pedal stroke. Her winning time for the six-lap race was one hour, 49 minutes and 14 seconds.
To everybody's surprise, Mariske Strauss (MTN-Energade) did not finish in her customary second position. The dominance of Speedy and Strauss, who alternatively claimed the first and second positions in the women's races for months, was ended by the Boere-Yank, Anina Aaron.
In defense of Strauss, it should be said that she experienced a day straight from hell as far mechanical problems were concerned. Because of this she lost valuable seconds. Strauss proved herself to be competent on the road as well when she won the Knysna Oyster festival road event ahead of a classy field.
Aaron finished second in 1:57:30, followed closely by Strauss third in 1:58:12, Caitlin de Wet (Specialized/MR Price) fourth and Cherise Taylor (Nashua) fifth.
Luckily it was not all doom and gloom for Strauss, because her third-place finish was good enough to make her the South African under 23 women's champion.
The 32-year-old Aaron lives in Oakridge, North Carolina, and she competed in the US national cross country series for the last few years. What's more, she has not been doing badly at all. According to her, she is currently ranked one of the top 20 female riders in the series.
The reason why she competed in the South African Championship was that she wanted to make the national selectors aware of the fact that she is still very much a South African and that she should love to represent her country in the World Championship.
Aaron was full of praise for Saturday's course. "It was a nice, challenging technical course. Once you are able to get into a rhythm it makes for nice riding."
De Wet said that the small, steep little climbs of the course made for hard racing throughout the six laps.
As usual Taylor, the South African road champion, had a tale of survival to tell. "This race made me realize that I am not nearly fit enough to keep up with the likes of Yolandé, Mariske and Caitlin in cross country racing. It was certainly one of my hardest races ever.
"The fun for me started towards the end of the race. The more tired I became, the more I went out of my way to see if I could find a rock or tree to ride into.
"During my last lap I came to the conclusion that the spectators along the route had not yet had the privilege to see a truly spectacular crash. I decided to take it upon myself to spoil them.
"And, oh boy, did I spoil them. On one of the last downhill sections, I totally lost control of my bicycle and went flying over my handlebars and into a tree. As I hit the ground, I heard people shouting triumphantly: ‘I managed to get a picture of your fall. It was great!'
"It was satisfying to know that, even though I did not win, I was at least able to make a good photo."
If anybody had any doubts about the truth of the saying "patience is a virtue", he was proven wrong by Arno du Toit (Specialized/MR Price) this past weekend. Du Toit did this by winning junior men's race.
During the first four cross country races in the MTN Series this year, Du Toit was always up front with the leaders but in the end, when it really mattered, he was just not able to pull off a victory. In Mankele, he finished third and in George, he was second.
Perhaps this not winning of Du Toit was a blessing in disguise for him. Instead of becoming negative and despondent, he was motivated to train harder and, eventually, he peaked at exactly the right moment to win the most important race and become the South African junior champion. Fortunately for him, he is a first year junior, which means that he will be able to defend his title next year.
Du Toit's teammate, James Reid, finished second and Travis Walker (DCM) was third. Only three minutes separated them.
Du Toit made his intentions clear right from the start by setting a very fast pace. After the first lap he already had a 42 second lead on Reid.
Du Toit's lap time of 15 minutes and 28 seconds was actually quite amazing, because during the whole day only five riders managed to ride laps of under 16 minutes. His was the third fastest lap of the day.
Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) posted the fastest lap time when he clocked 14:29, followed by Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) at 15:01. Renay Goustra (GT) 15:52 and Matthys Beukes (Scott) 15:39 were the other two riders who broke the 16-minute barrier.
Afterwards Du Toit described his victory as unbelievable. "I wanted to win very badly and I knew that I had a chance because the course at the Fountains suits my style of riding. It was my plan to make the racing as hard as possible in an effort to put pressure on the other riders. It certainly helped that I experienced one of those rare perfect days when it seemed as if I could do nothing wrong."
Reid, who won three of the four races in the MTN series, had no excuse afterwards. "The way Arno rode was brilliant. I don't think any of us had a realistic chance of beating him. He was just faster and stronger than the rest of us.
"As far as my own race is concerned, I had a bad day in the saddle. I crashed a few times quite early in the race and from then on I battled to get into a good rhythm."
According to Walker, he made the mistake of taking it too easy during the first part of the race. "I was trying to pace myself to save my energy for the second half of the race. That cost me the race because I could never catch up with James and Arno."
As usual, Candice Neethling (DCM) had no trouble winning the race for junior women.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Burry Stander (RSA)||1:59:29|
|2||Renay Groustra (RSA)||0:10:00|
|3||Matthys Beukes (RSA)||0:12:18|
|4||Ben Melt Swanepoel (RSA)||0:12:50|
|5||Paul Cordes (RSA)||0:14:16|
|6||Dominic Calitz (RSA)||0:14:19|
|7||Philip Buys (RSA)||0:17:30|
|8||Justice Makhale (RSA)||0:17:47|
|9||Louis-Bresler Knipe (RSA)|
|10||Hendrik Kruger (RSA)|
|11||Andrew Warr (RSA)|
|12||Adriaan Louw (RSA)|
|13||Shaun Craig Silver (RSA)|
|14||Lourens Luus (RSA)|
|15||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa)|
|16||Dwayne Klingbiel (RSA)|
|DNF||Craig Paul (RSA)|
|DNF||Hilton Frost (RSA)|
|DNF||Martinus Esmeyer (RSA)|
|DNF||Jc Jooste (RSA)|
|DNF||Guylin Van Den Berg (RSA)|
|DNF||Francois Theron (RSA)|
|DNF||Leon Klopper (RSA)|
|DNF||Chris Frankiskos (RSA)|
|DNF||David Maartens (RSA)|
|DNF||Renier Bellingan (RSA)|
|DNF||Mark Lambert (RSA)|
|DNF||Robert Frost (RSA)|
|DNF||Darryn Purtell (RSA)|
|DNS||Stefanus Van Den Heever (RSA)|
|DNS||Colin Brent (RSA)|
|DNS||Ben Olivier (RSA)|
|DNS||Christian Langenhorst (RSA)|
|DNS||Ricardo Giraldo Sierra (Col)|
|DNS||Erik Kleinhans (RSA)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolande Speedy (RSA)||1:49:14|
|2||Anina Aaron (USA)||0:08:16|
|3||Mariske Strauss (RSA)||0:08:58|
|4||Caitlin De Wet (RSA)||0:10:51|
|5||Cherise Taylor (RSA)||0:14:35|
|6||Karien Van Jaarsveld (RSA)||0:21:08|
|7||Amy Mcdougall (RSA)||0:34:15|
|8||Yolandi Du Toit (RSA)|
|9||Samantha Sanders (RSA)|
|10||Claudia Von Tutschek (RSA)|
|11||Bianca Grotepass (RSA)|
|12||Alexis Zorab (RSA)|
|13||Carmen Bassingthwaighte (Nam)|
|DNF||Angela Egeland (RSA)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Amo Du Toit (RSA)||1:36:06|
|2||James Reid (RSA)||0:02:15|
|3||Travis Walker (RSA)||0:03:02|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Candice Neethling (RSA)||1:24:19|
|2||Ashleigh Parker (RSA)||0:09:30|
|3||Andrea De Boer (RSA)||0:13:58|
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