Stander and Speedy dominate South African cross country opener

Beijing Olympians Burry Stander and Yolande Speedy showed that four years later they're still South Africa's top mountain bike racers in the Olympic cross country discipline, winning the elite men and women's races, respectively, at the opening round of the 2012 South African National Cup Series in Durbanville, near Cape Town on Saturday.

Stander (Specialized USN) hasn't been beaten in a domestic cross country race in South Africa since 2003 and he ensured he maintained that dominance by finishing more than one-and-a-half-minutes ahead of runner-up Phillip Buys (Contego). Speedy (Epic Sports USN) hasn't raced cross country for more nine months, but showed she's still the country's finest female lap racer, finishing well clear of her rivals.

Marathon and stage racing are extremely popular in South Africa, but with 167 days until the start of the 2012 London Games and four weeks until the opening round of the International Cycling Union's (UCI) World Cup Series in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, cross country racing is enjoying more attention that normal as riders eagerly vie for national series points and racing sharpness.

At this stage, only Stander is expected to be on the start line in London, but an armful of UCI points from South African men between now and May 23 could see a second men's cross country Games slot secured, while the women have an outside chance of securing one start spot in London. A series of three new international point-scoring cross country races over the next few weeks in South Africa will help their cause.

"This was one of the better nationals I've ever been to," said Stander. "The course was very good, offering a good balance of rocks and sand and ascents and descents. It was also extremely spectator friendly and the crowd that came to watch was great."

Stander and Buys quickly moved to the front on the opening lap of the 4.6km circuit and then traded the lead until lap 4, when Stander powered clear on his own, smoothly clearing every obstacle on the rugged course and showing the quality that took him to the under 23 world title in 2009.

"Phil (Buys) has definitely upped his level this year and he tends to start very strong so I was happy to bide my time until the latter part of the race and try and gain an advantage there," said Stander. "It was one of my most comfortable races ever. I honestly can't say that I made a single mistake, which, on a course that varied and challenging, is rare. And one of my fastest laps was the last lap so it shows my conditioning is very good."

Stander, who started 2012 ranked No. 6 in the world, put his sharp form down to the fact that he's "revisited everything" to be his best in a year that he's made an Olympic medal a priority. He was the only rider to break 12 minutes for a lap on three occasions, one being his seventh and final lap.

"I've honed my nutrition, both on and off the bike, I've hired a coach, Dr Jeroen Swart, who has prescribed me more intensity sessions than what I did when I was self-coached. And because I have to answer to someone, I do them all properly! And I've relooked at my bicycle's components, opting for more robust tyres and parts over super-light ones. I've essentially spent more time and effort on improving my body's performance than my bike's performance," said the multiple-time South African and African champion.

There was a big group of riders doing battle for third place around two minutes behind Buys and Stander. Namibia's Marc Bassingthwaighte eventually claimed third ahead of Matthys Beukes and Rourke Croeser (Orange Monkey Cannondale), who was the first under 23 home.

In the women's race, Speedy took the lead after the first kilometre and never relinquished it. Sara Muhl claimed the runner-up spot, just over five minutes back, and Samantha Sanders was third.

"It's the first cross country race I've done in ages and it went very well. It was my first cross country race on a 29-inch wheel bike and I really have to say it was amazing! It rolled over the rough terrain a lot better than a 26-inch bike would have and I really felt strong on the climbs too," said Speedy, who spent a large part of 2011 recovering from surgery to ease the constriction of an iliac artery.

"Unfortunately there's still not a lot of depth in elite women's cross country racing, but it's good to see the under 23 and junior ranks looking more solid this year. I'll be focussing mostly on cross country racing for the first half of the year and am looking forward to the international races coming up in KwaZulu-Natal over the next few weeks," said Speedy, who was the only woman able to break 16 minutes for a lap (four of her five laps were under 16 minutes).

Full Results

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Elite Men
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Burry Stander1:24:19
2Philip Buys0:01:43
3Marc Bassingthwaighte0:05:38
4Matthys Beukes0:05:54
5Renay Groustra0:07:16
6Louis-Bresler Knipe0:11:17
7Oliver Munnik0:11:48
8Andrew Warr0:12:27
-1lapChris Wolhuter
-1lapStuart Marais
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Elite Women
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Yolande Speedy1:18:40
2Sara Muhl0:05:38
3Samantha Sanders0:08:26
4Nedene Cahill0:11:08
5Julia Colvin0:15:09
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Under 23 Men
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Rourke Croeser1:30:46
2James Reid0:01:44
3Brendon Davids0:02:26
4Lourens Luus0:04:24
5Travis Walker0:06:36
-1lapAdriaan Louw
-1lapGert Heyns
-1lapJurgens Uys
-1lapArno Du Toit
-1lapJason Meaton
-1lapShaun-Craig Silver
-1lapAaron Adler
-2lapsBastian Labuschagne
-2lapsBonani Xatasi
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Under 23 Women
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Candice Neethling1:05:45
2Ashleigh Parker-Moffatt0:05:05
3Angela Egeland0:12:26
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Junior Men
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Dylan Hattingh1:07:33
2Kyle Dorkin0:01:45
3Patrick Belton0:04:36
4Richardt Ferreira0:05:41
5Paul Rodenbach0:08:24
6Frans Grotepass0:08:50
7Edward Best0:09:20
8Matthew Schofield0:09:29
9Jaco Pelser0:10:34
10Jannes Buijs0:11:55
11Ruan Erasmus0:12:55
12Raymond Wagener0:13:12
13Martin Rodenbach0:13:22
14Tim Wilkens0:14:50
15Albert Anderson0:17:09
16Max Sullivan0:17:59
17Christan Kirsten0:19:18
18Werner Van Heerden0:20:24
19Ross Van Der Merwe0:28:32
-1lapDeclan Sidey
-1lapBrandon Willcocks
-1lapDean Morgan
-1lapMarthinus Brink
-1lapRobin Rathbone
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Junior Women
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Savannah Vosloo0:51:51
2Hayley Smith0:00:20
3Nicole Erasmus0:01:07
4Linda Van Wyk0:02:55
5Marie-Christin Kempf0:10:44
6Tayla Odendaal0:14:42
7Mikayla Oliver0:15:10
8Nicole Van Der Merwe0:16:04

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