Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized) lived up to his pre-race favourite status and won his seventh successive national title when he dominated the Pro-Elite Men’s race at the MTN South African Cross-Country mountain bike championships in George.
The current Under-23 World Cup champion not only retained his national Under-23 title, but beat the Elite men convincingly, coming home more than seven minutes ahead of runner-up Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin adidas). According to Stander, who regularly records such large winning margins in South Africa, the difference between him and his African rivals isn’t as much physical as it is mental.
ÔÇ£Physically, these guys are superb athletes, but I just have better conditioning and confidence from focusing my career on cross-country racing and not racing so often,ÔÇØ┬Ø said Stander, when asked why he was so much quicker than his domestic rivals.
ÔÇ£Racing regularly abroad at a quicker pace, as I have done for the past two years, gets you onto a slightly higher physical level, but it’s the mental jump that’s biggest and most important,ÔÇØ┬Ø explained Stander, agreeing that the continued fascination with marathon and stage racing in South Africa was largely to blame for the lack of depth in cross-country racing, the only mountain bike racing discipline contested at Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
Stander seldom races on a hardtail bike now that he is sponsored by Specialized, one of the world’s leading mountain bike manufacturers, which makes a super-light dual suspension model, Specialized S-Works, which Stander rode to victory on Saturday.
ÔÇ£It’s such a rough course here in George and although other guys also used dual-suspension bikes today, they’re not as used to racing them as I’ve become, so in a way, that benefitted me too,ÔÇØ┬Ø observed Stander, whose winning time for the eight-lap race was a snappy 2hr 3min 40sec.
Bassingthwaighte, a Namibian, clocked 2:11:18 with Matthys Beukes (MTN Energade) claiming third place overall and the silver medal in the Under-23 category. Philip Buys (Garmin adidas), was fourth overall and third Under-23.
The first Elite South African rider home was Erik Kleinhans in sixth overall (behind fifth-placed Mannie Heymans of Namibia) giving him the Elite national title. The Namibian riders don’t qualify for domestic titles and medals.
Rourke Croeser (DCM Chrome) retained his national Junior title in the category with the most depth. Ruan du Toit claimed the silver medal and Adriaan Louw (DCM Chrome) secured the bronze.
Overcast, cool conditions greeted the participants, welcome relief after a week of searing heat. National titles were contested in a variety of age groups at the Saasveld Campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, one of the most scenic race venues in the country.