Hill To Hill
by Tim Whitfield
BURRY Stander and Brandon Stewart fought out a classic duel in the Sunday Tribune Jeep Hill 2 Hill Mountain Bike Marathon from Hilton to Hillcrest on Sunday, with defending champion Stander claiming victory by aboout five centimetres after 105km of tough racing.
In the women's event, defending champion Tania Raats had not fully recovered from illness over the past week and had to settle for second behind Amy-Jane Mundy in a reversal of last year's result.
While Stewart was heartbroken to have lost the race in the final metres, it was probably a just result with Stander slightly stronger until a puncture allowed Stewart to take the lead in the final 10km.
Stander, who two weeks ago finished a superb sixth in the under 23 race at the World Championships, was full of racing and stamped his authority at the first real climb of the event.
After a frenetic first 10 kilometres down into Pietermaritzburg from World's View, the pace settled down and a big group of 12 riders sat together until the climb at Friesland Hill just outside the city.
Once they reached the steep incline, Stander accelerated and it was a case of seeing who could hang on longest. Stewart managed to hold the South African cross country champion until near the top but could only watch as Stander claimed the first King of the Hills sprint. He went on to win the King of the Hills title with five out of five mountain-top wins.
From then on it was a time trial with the two seperated by less than a minute until about halfway when Stander began opening a gap.
"Going up the first hill Burry made it very tough and he was too strong for all of us," said Stewart. "I thought he might tire towards the end but he seemed to get stronger and in the second half I could not hold his pace. I stayed within a minute of him for most of the race but then he opened the gap.
"With about 10km to go I could not believe it when I saw him ahead."
Stander fixed his puncture and was still ahead of Stewart after the repair, but his replacement tube did not inflate properly and he was forced to ride on a semi-flat tyre.
"Brandon came past me soon after the puncture and I thought it was over," said an exhausted Stander after the finish. "I was going to ride for second and then decided to put my head down and managed to catch him again."
Stewart also thought he had victory but was amazed at Stander's fightback.
"I thought I had it when I caught him and attacked as I caught him. I went straight past and thought it was all over, but then he came back and I noticed his tyre was a bit flat, and thought I could take him in the sprint.
"I got ahead coming into the finish straight but he came around me, I thought about squeezing him toward the barrier but could not do it."
For the spectators the finish could not have been better as the two battled side for side in the sprint for the line with Stander edging ahead literally in the last few metres. Both riders collapsed to the ground exhausted straight after the finish.
David Leiman ended third, six minutes behind, followed by Peter Smith and then Richard Beswick fifth.
They were however not the only riders who were exhausted as the rest of the 1 400 riders found the course tough, but the overwhelming feeling was that it was one of the best races in the country.
"This is a true test of mountain biking" said Stander. "It is a tremendous course."
Opinion from the riders throughout the field echoed his statement, with the backmarkers finding the 105km tough, but with very few drop outs other than a couple of injured rider or mechanical problems the race proved an achievable challenge.
Men: 1 Burry Stander 4 hrs 0 minutes 36 seconds; 2 Brandon Stewart 4:00:37; 3 David Leiman 4:06:36; 4 Peter Smith 4:09:55; 5 Richard Beswick 4:12:13.
Women: 1 Amy-Jane Mundy 4:55:32; 2 Tania Raats 5:02:52; 3 Natalie Unstead 5:16:13; 4 Carla Germishuys 5:23:05; 5 Shawna Thunder 5:28:15.