By Bardy the Action Scribe

With Olympic Games hype beginning to build, Burry Stander and Yolande Speedy will be aiming to keep their names on top of the Beijing 2008 short-list when they tackle Round 2 of the Mazda MTN Mountain Bike Cup in Pretoria on Saturday.

South Africa has been awarded two places – one male and one female – for mountain biking at the Beijing Games and although they’re currently the leading contenders for final selection, Stander (Mr Price GT) and Speedy (IMC Racing) will need to maintain their high level of performance to retain top-of-mind status among the selectors.

After two punctures forced him to withdraw from Round 1 in Stellenbosch last month, Stander is taking no chances with his equipment for Round 2.

“I have gone back to basics and sacrificed a bit of lightness in favour of safer tyre and rim choices,” said Stander on Thursday afternoon, shortly after completing a practice session on the circuit, which he described as “flat but technical”.

“I’m feeling in good form and can hopefully keep things together for a good result. On a course like this there could be a few upsets as it can suit the bigger, more powerful riders.”

Stander, the current South African and African cross-country champion, sees his main opposition coming from current SA marathon champion, Kevin Evans (MTN Energade) and Namibian star, Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin Trek).

“Kevin and Marc are going very well right now, but you can never underestimate the local Gauteng riders and someone like John Paul Pearton (USN) could come up with a big challenge.”

Other contenders for a podium finish include Renay Goustra, Roan Exelby (Fullimput), African Elite cross-country champion, Melt Swanepoel (MTN Energade) and multiple former African champion, Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade).

Speedy is familiar with the technical course after having raced – and won – the Gauteng Provincial Cup event there last weekend. Her primary rivals will be current South African cross-country champion, Amy-Jane Mundy (Jeep) from KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape star, Sara Muhl (Jeep).

“The course suits me and my cross-country specific training is coming along well,” said Speedy. “But nothing is in certain in mountain biking, so I’ll be on the lookout for Amy-Jane and Sara. Amy-Jane is really fit at the moment and Sara’s technical skills are very good.”

All age groups will be in action on Saturday, with racing starting at 08h00. The Elite women will start at 09h20 and the Elite Men at 13h00.

Then on Sunday, the country’s best descenders will tackle the second round of the Mazda MTN SA Cup Downhill event at Gilloolys Farm in Johannesburg.

Andrew Neethling (Mongoose) will be out to claim a second successive victory following his dominant win in Round 1 in Stellenbosch in January. But his brother Jonty and former national champion, Johann Potgieter, will be leading the challenge to upstage the current national champion.

The course is very rocky and unforgiving and the riders will need to become extremely familiar with the tricky descent during practice to ensure familiarity with the best lines. One minor error on stones the size of baby heads can cost vital seconds.

Downhill practice is from 08h00 on Sunday with racing starting at 10h00.