Big guns fly under the radar

2011-04-21 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s main challengers for this weekend’s UCI mountainbike World Cup — Burry Stander and Greg Minnaar — are playing their cards close to their chests ahead of the international World Cup season opener.

Stander and Minnaar — both serious Olympic medal contenders — opted out of the CSA nationals first leg competition that was held on the same Cascades track layout that will host this weekend’s World Cup.

The decision was made by Stander and Minnaar in an effort to avoid pressure and the risk of injury.

Last weekend’s event saw a number of the international stars racing in tricky rainy and muddy conditions, providing an opportunity to learn the cross country and downhill courses in a competitive environment.

Stander opted not to race and was instead a spectator at the cross-country event. He and his Specialised Racing teammate Christoph Sauser — with whom he won the Absa Cape Epic earlier this month — opted instead to ride a road race on the weekend which Stander won on his moutainbike fitted with road slicks.

Stander’s decision not to race the nationals on the slippery Cascades layout was all about not risking injury ahead of the UCI MTB World Cup, which carries with it key Olympic qualifying points, and the expectations of his droves of fans.

“There was no way I was going to risk injury or damaging equipment in that mud,” said Stander.

“The road race was important because, while rest is important, you have to keep your legs used to racing,” he said.

“I try to come down to the event as late as possible. That way I try to limit exposure to the distractions. But come raceday I promise you I will be so focused that nothing will bother me,” he added.

Stander is confident that he has recovered from his gruelling Cape Epic win.

“I like to think I am back to top form, or at least 95% if my power readings are anything to go by,” he said.

Minnaar’s absence from the downhill racing was as much about avoiding the risk of injury as it was about deflecting pressure and not letting his competitors learn too much about his lines and strategy on the tough, physically demanding downhill course.

Minnaar and his Santa Cruz team-mates have been enjoying time at a game reserve in the build-up to the event, happy to be away from the hype that has engulfed the Cascades mountainbike park.

“Racing at home does also bring a bit of added pressure,” Minnaar said.

“It’s a little more strenuous than when you compete away from home because when you’re racing here everyone wants a little piece of you and you’ve got to try help everyone where you can whilst still focus on the primary goal and that is preparing for the race,” he added.

Minnaar is confident that he knows the lengthened and modified course well enough saying, “I’ll spend a lot of my time trying to memorise the track and picture which lines I’ll look to take in the race because it’s all about getting onto the lines that you feel are the quickest and the ones you feel best on.”

He also feels strongly that to be successful a downhill rider must stay fresh and not overtrain on a particular course.

“I haven’t been on the track much at all. I think you can certainly override a track and once you do that you run the risk of losing that edge you need to compete at your best. I’ve made a point of resisting the urge to get on the track and train on it much at all even though its right here on my doorstep, I’ve hardly been on it at all,” he admitted.

The UCI MTB World Cup takes place at the Cascades in Pietermaritzburg from tomorrow to Sunday.

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