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Burry’s ups and downs

By Mark Etheridge

Newly crowned World Mountain Bike Cross-Country Champion Burry Stander has ended his season with mixed fortunes.

Since his triumphant World Championships in Canberra, Australia last month (September), Stander has experienced a bit of the good, bad and ugly of biking.

The absolute highlight was victory over Olympic champion Julien Absalon of France.

Just over a week after his Canberra celebrations, Stander was back in action in Champery, Switerland for the second-last round of World Cup races and with it came one of his season highlights.

“It rained quite heavily on the Saturday and on race day the course was slippery and we chose some intermediate tyres over the dry weathers.

“The start loop took us up a 2km tar road climb before dropping into the final tricky descent on the normal lap. The lap consisted of a flattish, tecnical first loop with some steep drop-offs and tight bends and then on the second loop we headed out onto a steep (23-33% gradient) climb of around 1km. The run up to the finish from here was mostly downhill covered in wet roots and rocks.

“I had a steady start and dropped into the trail in 11th spot. as we headed out on the first full lap I bridged to the group in front and only Alexis Vuilermoz was further up the road. By the second lap Absalon made his move and bridged to Alexis with me chasing in third.

“On the climb I managed to reel in Vuilermoz while Absalon was slowly growing his lead. I towed Alexis around for a few laps as I needed to stay ahead of the riders I was fighting with in the series rankings and it seemed like Absalon was going to be just out of reach. With two laps to go I could see Ralph Naf coming up from behind and I had to dig deep, to my surprise I brought 20sec back on Julien and I was feeling good.

“As we hit the last climb he still had a 25sec lead and I thought it was too late, but he was blown and when that happens on a steep climb like that, you go nowhere. I took full advantage and started sprinting up the climb. i managed to pass Absalon and drop into the last downhill ahead of the Olympic champion. I took big chances and experienced incredible adrenaline over the last few hundred metres before the line. I had won my first World Cup! I never thought it would happen so soon… I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment when I crossed the line.”

Stander crossed the line in 1hr 41min 06sec, with a healthy 15sec lead over Absolon.

The next week was the final World Cup of the season in Schladming, Austria.

This was the bad section of his post World Cup actitivies, a case of flattering to deceive for the KwaZulu-Natal south coast rider. “I had my best start of the year, leading the bunch for the first few 100m but as we rolled into the first ascent my legs had nothing. I did however dig deep and hung onto the lead group for a lap and a bit.

“The course was a real climbers course and there was nowhere to hide — Great when you have the legs but real bad when you are having a slightly bad day

“On the second lap I started slipping and by the end of the fifth lap I was down in the high 20’s and my legs found something from somewhere. I started to make up some ground on riders and I finished the race in 15th spot (4:23 behind winner Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos of Spain). It obviously wasn’t what I was hoping for but I had my best season ever and ended third in the World Cup Series.”

It also wasn’t a great day for Absalon as he was forced to abandon with a flat tyre.

Then came the ugly ending to the season for Stander as he switched from road to tar for the UCI World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

The men’s under-23 field raced for a total of 179.4km, spread over 13 laps and the race was eventually won by France’s Romain Sicard in 4hr 41min 54sec.

There was to be no fairytale ending for Stander though. As he explains: “On the fifth of the 13 laps I was in the main group. Unfortunately on the fast descent two guys just ahead of me crashed into one another and I just couldn’t avoid them also went down (at about 70kph!). I only had minor injuries but my bike frame had broken and I wasn’t able to continue.

“So I was pretty bummed but that’s the way road racing goes sometimes.” The race had a high attrition rate with more than 90 riders unable to complete the gruelling event.

Now it’s vacation time for Stander as he plans on a two-week vacation back home to recharge his batteries.