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South African National Cup Series #3 & National Championships - CN
George, South Africa, March 14-15, 2009
Fresh off winning a silver medal in Thursday's Under 23 raod championships and fourth overall in the time trial championships, Stander is happy with his form and hopes it will translate into a seventh successive national cross country title.
"My first goal each year is to retain my national title," said Stander. "I then build my racing season overseas from there. It's important to race the national championships - no matter how successful you are outside your own country."
"I've been preparing for the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, which has involved a lot of long distance riding, but my speed hasn't been compromised much, and I look forward to some flat-out cross-country racing this weekend."
Stander won both of the first two rounds of the national series in Stellenbosch and Nelspruit and is the outright favourite to win the Under 23 title as well as the elite title since the two categories will race simultaneously.
Stander's biggest challenge is likely to come from 2008 elite national champion, Brandon Stewart (DCM Chrome), although he may not be at his best following a recent hospital stay for a sinus procedure. Stewart's teammate Max Knox is also expected to be a podium challenger, along with the Garmin adidas quartet of Philip Buys, Mannie Heymans, Marc Bassingthwaighte and Francois Theron and Team GT's Renay Goustra and Team Schwinn's Johnny Kritzinger.
"The Epic is far more daunting than cross-country nationals," said Speedy. "They're so different, but both very important. I obviously have good endurance so just hope I've got enough top-end speed."
Speedy will hope for better luck than she encountered at last year's nationals in Pietermaritzburg when she broke a chain early on and spent most of the race chasing, eventually finishing second to Amy Jane Mundy.
This year, Mundy, the 2007 and 2008 national champion, will be absent due to having not yet fully recovered from a viral illness. In her absence, Sara Muhl (Jeep), who won rounds one and two of the national series, is a favorite along with KwaZulu-Natal star, Tania Raats (Bell Equipment).
Racers will compete on a 5.6km loop course, shorter than in previous years. It features a large portion of singletrack and mostly short, sharp ascents and descents in the shadow of the Outeniqua Mountains.
Downhill hopefuls ready for a shot at title
Andrew Neethling (Trek), ranked 14th in the world and holder of the 2008 national title and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), ranked number one in the world and the 2008 World Cup champion, are both skipping the 2009 edition the South African championships. Neethling is in Europe, while Minnaar is training at home in Pietermaritzburg, where he will begin the defence of his World Cup title in four week's time at first round of the UCI World Cup.
What this means is that a bigger chunk of international rankings points will be up for grabs on Sunday, which will allow more South Africans a chance to qualify to race in the Pietermaritzburg leg of the World Cup, a rare opportunity and one which many rising stars have taken seriously.
Expect a strong showing from Gary Barnard (Fox Morewood), Johann Potgieter (Cannondale), Jonty Neethling (Fox Morewood). All three have filled positions two through four at the first two rounds of the MTN National Cup Series this year and will be hungry for the top step and the national title.
Others to watch are 2008 national junior champion Hayden Brown (Mongoose) and top juniors, Pierre van der Merwe, Timothy Bentley and Luke Davis, all of whom are likely contenders for the overall podium. In the women’s category, the main contenders are expected to be Rika Olivier, Gina Nixon and Vicky Phillips.
The course is two-kilometres long and fast, with the top riders averaging around two minutes a run (60kph average). It's riddled with berms and jumps, making it exciting for both riders and spectators. The event is based at the Outeniqua Nature Reserve (Witfontein Plantation).