8 September 2009
South African competitors won gold, silver and bronze at the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Australia, with Burry Stander being crowned world under-23 cross-country champion.
Greg Minnaar just missed out on winning the elite downhill title, while Candice Neethling picked up a bronze medal in the junior (under-19) women’s cross country.
Stander was a hot favourite to win the under-23 cross country title, deservedly so, as he entered the World Championships ranked fourth in the world in the elite (open) standings.
From the start, the man from Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal went out aggressively to force open a lead over the rest of the field. He posted the fastest splits on each of the first five laps to take a convincing victory in one hour, 47 minutes and 26 seconds.
France’s Alexis Vuillermoz turned in the fastest last lap, but had to settle for second, a minute and 21 seconds behind Stander. Swiss rider Thomas Litscher grabbed the final podium position, two minutes and 46 seconds behind the South African.
Reflecting on his win, Stander said: “A couple of days leading up to it (the race) was pretty nerve racking (but) today I was just focused on the start because I knew it would play a vital part in the race.”
“Unfortunately we had a really strong head wind, so it wasn’t possible to take the lead from the beginning we had to take our chances in the group and then wait until the single track before we made a move.
“Things worked out and I got into the track in second and from there on the race went perfectly,” Stander said.
The biggest crowds of the event were in attendance at the downhill, which always produces spectacular racing.
Victory went to 35-year-old Steve Peat of Great Britain, a legend in downhill racing who had amazingly never won the world title previously in his illustrious career.
Riding fourth last in the field of 63 riders, Peat set a time of two minutes, 30.33 seconds. However, he had to then sit nervously and wait for home favourite Mick Hannah, World Cup overall champion Greg Minnaar, and defending world champion Gee Atherton to make their runs.
Minnaar just missed out on the title by only five-hundredths of a second to finish in the silver medal position, while Hannah stopped the clock in 2:31.02 to secure bronze.
Peat had previously finished runner-up in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2008 and so the victory meant a lot to the man who usually races with Minnaar as his team-mate for the Santa Cruz Syndicate.
“It was pretty emotional putting the jersey on, on the podium knowing I could wear it as World Champion for the next year,” he said. “I’ve been trying for a long time and it’s just an unreal feeling.”
Junior cross country
South Africa’s third medal came from Neethling in the junior cross country. Victory went to the talented 17-year-old Frenchwoman Pauline Ferrand-Prevot ahead of Switzerland’s Michelle Hediger.
Looking back on her effort, Neethling described the race as “extremely difficult, very technical.”
She said: “The start was extremely hard, I didn’t know what to expect and it is great just to get a medal.”
The victory was a demonstration of Ferrand-Prevot’s versatility; in August she won silver in both the time trial and the road race at the UCI Junior Road World Championships in Moscow.
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