By Bardy the Action Scribe

South African cross-country champion Burry Stander (Mr Price GT) continued to impress when he beat South African marathon champion Kevin Evans (MTN Energade) at his own game to win the Mazda MTN Barberton Mountain Bike Challenge at the weekend.

 Top road riders, Yolandi du Toit (left) and Ronel van Wyk were all smiles on the start line. Du Toit finished third and Van Wyk ninth overall.

Evans, the defending champion at the 75km Barberton event, got a close-up look at Stander’s amazing early-season form when he was the only rider in a star-studded field able to hang onto the 20-year-old phenomenon, who set a searing pace virtually from the very start.

A large field gathered for the Mazda MTN Barberton Challenge, the first major mountain bike race of the year.

“At the first technical section shortly after the start I attacked and got a gap and just went hard from there. It went according to plan because I usually tend to start fast and then fade, but my endurance has improved and these marathons are just the right distance for me to keep going hard,” said an elated Stander.

Burry Stander was content to set the pace up the 30km climb with Kevin Evans the only rider able to stay in touch.

Evans and Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin Trek) set about chasing Stander and only caught him at around the 25km mark. But the effort of the chase proved too much for Bassingthwaighte who dropped back when the trio began the long 30km climb to Brighton Kop, leaving Evans and Stander out front in search of the victory.

Despite more challenging conditions than last year, Kevin Evans (right) and Burry Stander still clocked a time that was eight minutes quicker than Evans’ 2007 winning time.

“I was happy to ride on the front up the big climb,” said Stander. “We were getting time gaps on the chasing group and as long as our gap was increasing, I was content to set the pace.”

The men’s race came down to a thrilling sprint finish with Stander (right) just pipping Evans by half a wheel on the finish line!

The pair continued to open up their lead and as they approached the finish it became obvious that the race would be decided in a sprint.

“My legs were feeling really good so I was confident I could win if it came down to a sprint,” said Stander. “I let Kevin ride on the front in the final approach and I almost mistimed the sprint because the finish line was about 50m nearer to the final corner than it was last year. But I managed to just get around Kevin. It was very, very close!”

Burry Stander was happy to tell the media how he won the 2008 Mazda MTN Barberton Challenge.

Stander and Evans smashed the three-hour barrier for the race, clocking 02hr54min24sec, almost eight minutes faster than Evans’ winning time in 2007. Bassingthwaighte, who finished six minutes later, managed to hold on to third place with Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) finishing fourth and Jacques Rossouw making a welcome return to the top of the sport with a solid fifth.

In the women’s race, a two-way battle developed between Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing) and Yolande de Villiers (Cycle Lab). But it was a resurgent De Villiers, back from a long injury-induced break, that triumphed in a fast 03hrs35min39sec.

Speedy, the reigning South African marathon champion, finished two minutes later, while road racing star, Yolandi du Toit (Garmin Trek), upstaged some seasoned mountain bike racers to claim a surprise distant third place.

In the 40km Half-marathon, presented by Ferdevco, Rourke Crouser (Mongoose Red) and Caitlin de Wet (Mongoose Red) continued where they left off in 2007, winning. The pair of talented 17-year-olds are the reigning South African champions in the Youth men and women’s categories respectively and at Barberton were in no mood for company, both winning their respective races by comfortable margins.

The Mazda MTN Marathon Series makes way for the big stage race segment of the season over the next couple of months before returning with Event 2 on Sunday 3 May in Graskop, Mpumalanga.

Mazda MTN Barberton 75km Marathon 2008
Leading results:
1 Burry Stander 02hrs54min24sec
2 Kevin Evans 02:54:25
3 Marc Bassingthwaighte 3:00:23
4 Mannie Heymans 03:01:36
5 Jacques Rossouw 03:01:37
6 David George 03:03:37
7 Renay Goustra 03:05:28
8 Oliver Munnik 03:05:44
9 Johnny Kritzinger 03:06:14
10 Andrew McLean 03:06:34

1 Donovan Jackson 03:17:47
2 Paul Cordes 03:17:55
3 Adrian Enthoven 03:20:52

1 Andrew McLean 03:06:34
2 Damian Booth 03:17:39
3 Dirk Labuschagne 03:22:30

1 Christopher Brand 03:30:10
2 Dennis Lawrie 03:47:14
3 Henry Hayes 03:53:25

Grand Master
1 Johan Botes 4:48:18
2 Bert van den Raad 05:58:5
3 Joop Buhrs 07:01:02

1 Yolande de Villiers 03:35:39
2 Yolande Speedy 03:37:50
3 Yolandi du Toit 03:56:08
4 Samantha Oosthuizen 03:58:59
5 Sanet Smal 03:59:35

1 Adele Drake 04:00:20
2 Lisa Vermaak 04:35:04
3 Kirsten Tasker 04:37:52

1 Petruschka Constancon 04:27:14
2 Sandi Moore 04:40:23
3 Teresa Steyn 05:11:05

Mazda MTN Barberton Half-marathon 40km, presented by Ferdevco 2008
1 Rourke Croeser 01:42:02
2 Bryce Munro 01:44:19
3 Travis Slingerland 01:51:20

1 Caitlin de Wet 02:03:24
2 Genee Steyn 02:10:04
3 Beatrice Hogan 02:11:36