Cross-country race split at last minute, but excitement undampened

2008-03-17 00:00

An international rule applied at the last minute saw the separation of the U23 and Elite men at the Mazda MTN South African Cross-country Mountain Bike Championships in Pietermaritzburg at the weekend.

The surprise ruling and wet conditions failed to put a damper on the event and ultimately resulted in two high-quality races.

Previously, the two categories raced together in a Pro-Elite class race at SA Cup and national championships events. However, an International Cycling Union (UCI) official in Pietermaritzburg stepped in as the riders were gathered on the start line and requested the two categories race separately.

In the U23 event, Burry Stander (Mr Price GT) was a dominant victor, securing his third successive national title and his sixth in total.

Stander was in control from the start on a course with lots of short, steep climbs and mud, conditions he’s become accustomed on the European and North American courses. “It was a bit disappointing that they split us, but those are the rules. It did dilute the quality of the field a bit, but I still raced as hard as I could and am very happy to have won another SA champs title,” said Stander.

In the Elite race, Brandon Stewart (USN), inspired by enthusiastic hometown support, charged into an early lead at a very quick pace. But for the second half of the race, Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) caught and passed him and went on to victory.

Stewart held on to finish second with Johan van Zyl (Mr Price GT), Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) and Marc Bassingthwaighte (Trek Garmin) rounding out the top five places.

Because Heymans and Bassingthwaighte are Namibian, the national title went to Stewart with Van Zyl and Swanepoel collecting the silver and bronze medals respectively.

“I’ve been training for cross-country racing as well as marathon racing this year, so I was very prepared for this race,” said Stewart afterwards.

“I’m riding full time now, which makes a big difference. It feels really good to win a national title.

For Heymans, the overall victory was important as it confirmed his selection to represent Namibia at the Beijing Olympic Games, the veteran’s third Olympics.

“I didn’t have a great year last year and I told the Namibian Federation tha,t if I didn’t prove myself at the SA Champs, I would happily step aside from the Olympic team. But I showed today that I’ve still got what it takes and feel my selection is justified,” added Heymans.

In the women’s event, KwaZulu-Natal’s Amy-Jane Mundy did a rain dance last week and then a victory dance at the weekend when she took advantage of muddy conditions to successfully defend her Elite women’s title.

Going into the championships as a dark horse with only an outside chance of toppling African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing), the 2007 national champion, was motivated to put in a great performance. But winning by more than four minutes was an unexpected bonus.

“I love racing in muddy conditions and so for me, the rain was actually a good thing,” said the 26-year-old Jeep team rider.

“The course was only about 80% rideable on the first lap and I managed to get the early lead on the first climb and just built on it from there.”

Mundy used her superior mud-riding skills to increase her lead on the field, while Speedy had to contend with a snapped chain with two kilometres of the first lap remaining,

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