‘Burry was there with us’

2013-03-28 00:00

THE Stander family emerged as the true heroes of the Absa Cape Epic, which ended at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West last Sunday.

The teams of Cherise and Duane and Charles and Charl Stander — racing as Africanmtbkid 1 and Africanmtbkid 2 respectively — tackled the world’s pre-eminent mountain bike stage race in honour of the late Burry Stander, who won the 2011 and 2012 Epics with Christoph Sauser.

The Swiss rider commemorated his former team-mate in fitting fashion as he and Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy won the gruelling race as team Burry Stander-SONGO, but the most memorable moments of the Epic’s 10-year anniversary followed when Burry’s wife Cherise and brother Duane crossed the finish line before his father Charles followed suit, with mother Mandie willing them on.

Cherise said she was overcome with emotion when the end of an eight-day emotional roller-coaster ride finally arrived. “It was heartbreaking crossing the finish line, but at the same time we were happy.

“It was a humbling experience and it made me realise even more what a true hero Burry really was. I always knew he was tough but I didn’t know how tough ... realising how fast they rode and the obstacles they had to overcome to win it twice ... it’s phenomenal. I have great respect for everybody who has finished the Epic.”

The 23-year-old said starting the race was the most challenging part of the event. “The Prologue was really emotional; actually being at the Epic and realising why we were there without Burry, that was very tough emotionally. Physically, the first day was extremely tough. You walked on the beach for what felt like eight kilometres and I had a lot of mental struggles there.”

Cherise said the highlight of the event came during stage four last Thursday — a day that holds special significance to her — when she and Duane powered to second place in the mixed division. “I definitely think there was a higher power there. On that day six years ago, Burry asked me to be his girlfriend, so I think we had some extra help. I thought about that the whole time,” she said.

“We came from not even being close to the next team to coming second and it’s also the stage where Christoph and Jaroslav regained the yellow jerseys, so I definitely think he was there with us.”

It also proved to be the turning point of their race as the duo went on to place second on stage six and third on the final day to finish fifth overall in the mixed division. “It wasn’t something I thought I’d ever do and then doing so well was really an accomplishment for Duane and me,” she said.

Duane commented: “It was an emotional experience but to be able to participate in Burry’s honour was a privilege. We raced well as a team; Cherise got stronger as the race went on, and the support was fantastic.”

Burry’s oldest brother Charl contracted a stomach virus on Sunday but he persevered until the third day when, 76 kilometres into the day, he visited a medical tent where it was determined he was on the brink of suffering kidney failure.

“I thought I was just dehydrated because I couldn’t keep any food or water down, but after blood tests they discovered my kidneys had been severely damaged,” said Charl. He was rushed to hospital and discharged two days later.

Despite his heroic effort, Charl felt disappointed. “It’s a bit of a disaster. I’ve never started something that I couldn’t finish.”

Charles soldiered on and managed to complete his third Epic. “It was extremely emotional for all of us, especially at the finish, but all in all it was a good thing to do as a family,” he said.

Mandie said she was extremely proud of the quartet. “I’m very proud of all of them. I don’t think anyone can really grasp how gruelling a race it is unless you watch the action up close and see what the riders go through.”

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