By Bardy the Action Scribe

South Africa’s top Olympic hopefuls, Burry Stander and Yolande Speedy, head up a big-name field that will tackle the 2007 edition of the Sabie Experience four-day mountain bike race in Sabie, Mpumalanga next week.
Burry Stander, the African and South African cross-country mountain bike champion heads up a strong field for the 2007 Sabie Experience stage race which starts on Friday 14 December.

Stander will team up with Mr Price GT teammate, Marc Bassingthwaighte for the tough stage race, which, in just four years, has become one of the most prestigious events on the racing calendar.
Between them, Stander and Bassingthwaighte won four Mazda Series marathon races in 2007, the former capturing Graskop and Eston and the latter securing victories at Harrismith and Korranaberg. Stander won the 2006 edition of the Sabie Experience when teamed up with John Paul Pearton. However, this year, Pearton has his Mazda Merida teammate, Francois Theron, for company, setting up what should be a fantastic battle between the two strong teams.
Other leading teams in the Senior Men’s category that are likely to challenge for stage wins and the final podium, include David Lehman and Roan Exelby (Fullinput II), Peter Smith and Craig Paul (Jeep) and Richard Beswick and Max Knox (Mugg and Bean).

Some very strong riders who are also expected to make an impact at the front of the race punctuate a long veteran category entry list. The powerful sibling pairing of Johan and David Labuschagne (Cycle Lab Brothers) are expected to be tough to beat, but will be wary of the defending veteran champion team of Andrew McLean and Damian Booth (Cycle Lab Supercycling 1). The latter gained significant respect after they went on to win the 2007 Absa Cape Epic Master’s title and are known to only race when in peak form.
Another pairing that is likely to feature in the top 10 overall is Renato Albrecht and Shaun Mackenzie (Garmin DCM), both are former top road cyclists that have become familiar with mountain bike race podiums during the past year.
And South African sub-veteran marathon champion, Melt Swanepoel, who rides for the Raleigh MTN Energade team is also on the entry list. Winner of two Mazda Series races in 2007 (Haenertsberg and Karoo to Coast), Swanepoel will team up with local businessman Francois Lourens in the Wellness@Casterbridge team. Lourens is an accomplished rider, which should give the pair an outside shot at the sub-veteran podium.
Speedy will once again team up with Paul Cordes (IMC Mongoose) in an effort to defend the Mixed Category title they won so convincingly last year. In fact, the pair finished fifth overall in 2006 and then went on to win the Mixed title at the 2007 Absa Cape Epic. Expect them to challenge for a top-five overall finish once again. Also making an appearance in the Mixed category are the country’s leading Youth category riders, Rourke Crouser and Caitlin de Wet (Red Mongoose). Both won national titles and overall victory in the Fritz Pienaar Cycle national half marathon series. It will be interesting to see how they fare against a field of riders mostly double their age.
In the women’s field, Tania Raats’ name is one that stands out. Raats won two Mazda Series marathon races in 2007 and actually led the Series until the final event. She will be teamed up with fellow KwaZulu-Natalian, Natalie Unstead in the colours of Team Maverick.
Another team likely to shine is that of Erica Green and Hanlie Booyens. Although retired from full-time racing, Green is a two-time Olympian with a solid pedigree. She is also a qualified cycling coach so is likely to be in superb form. Booyens is a regular top-3 finisher in national marathon races and is one of the Western Cape’s strongest female riders. The pair should be sure podium challengers.
The Sabie Experience starts on Friday 14 December and finishes on Monday 17 December. All stages start and finish in Sabie.
Stage 1: 78km (1800m ascent)
Stage 2: 82km (1800m ascent)
Stage 3: 65km (1650m ascent)
Stage 4: 24km time trial (500m ascent)