By Bardy the Action Scribe

He’s in a completely different class when it comes to cross-country mountain bike racing, which is why the current South African and African champion, Burry Stander, will find his biggest opposition coming from himself at the 2008 Mazda MTN SA Championships, which take place in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

Barring any kind of mishap, Stander, who is currently 25th on the International Cycling Union world rankings, is expected to completely dominate the Elite men’s race on Saturday in search of his third consecutive national Elite title.

The 20-year-old Mr Price GT rider is currently in sublime form, as was seen by his impressive sixth place finish in the hillclimb time trial stage at last week’s MTN Giro del Capo road stage race, in which Stander finished a superb 15th overall.

The national champs course, which takes the Elite men on six laps of a 6.3km lap, also suits Stander. It’s very steep and in line with the kind of courses he races on so regularly in Europe and North America.

“I haven’t ridden this new course yet, but I have walked it and can say that it’s going to make the racing very hard. There is a lot of steep climbing. There will be big time gaps between riders in all categories,” said Stander.

Stander modestly disagrees that nobody else can realistically beat him on Saturday, but says that when he does have a big lead in local races, he sees it as preparation for the big international events he competes in abroad, which this year will almost certainly include the Olympic Games in Beijing.

“I always try to go as fast as I can, whether it’s racing against others, against myself or against the clock,” said Stander. “The SA champs title is very important to me. My international team, GT, also rates national titles highly so I’m going all out to try and win on Saturday.”

Riders hoping to share the podium with Stander on Saturday include Roan Exelby (Fullimput), Renay Goustra (Mongoose Red), Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) Johan van Zyl (Mr Price GT), Marc Bassingthwaighte (Trek Garmin), Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) and Jacques Rossouw.

The Elite men’s race starts at 13h00.