13 August 2012
South Africa’s Burry Stander made a valiant attempt to claim a medal in the men’s cross-country mountain bike race at the Olympic Games on Sunday, but came up just short with a fifth place finish after a gruelling race.
Hadleigh Farm sounds like a pleasant enough place, but the mountain bike track, with its twists and turns and ever changing elevation, including plenty of climbing, is a real challenge, especially when the world’s elite cross-country competitors are duelling one another and racing it at their maximum pace.
After a furious start to Sunday’s race, Stander found himself 15 seconds down on the leading trio of Jaroslav Kulhavy, the overall 2011 World Cup champion, Nino Schurter, the winner of this year’s Pietermaritzburg World Cup and three other World Cup events, and the Italian Marco Aurelio Fontana after the first lap.
Slip on lap four
The South African star then put in consecutive fastest laps to haul in the leaders. A small slip on lap four, however, saw him dropped once again as the front-running trio piled on the pace. Stander and Spain’s Jose Antonio Hermida, the winner of the 2010 World Championships, became the closest chasers to the men in medal position.
There appeared to be a slight slowing by Kulhavy, Schurter and Fontana on the penultimate lap as they prepared themselves for a tactical, lung-bursting showdown on the seventh and final lap of the course, but it wasn’t enough to let Stander and Hermida close the distance.
Czech ace Kulhavy snatched a vital inside line on the last sharp climb before the finish to edge ahead of Schurter for the victory. Fontana, meanwhile, lost his saddle on the last lap, which allowed the two chasers to close the gap on the bronze medal winner. Hermida then sneaked in front of Stander on the finishing line, just four seconds behind Fontana, to take fourth place.
Stander’s finishing time of 1:29:37 was half-a-minute behind the winner, Kulhavy, his team-mate in non-Olympic action on Team Specialized.
Five seconds off the podium
Afterwards, Stander told reporters: “Fifth, being 10 seconds off the podium [he was actually only five seconds behind Fontana] you can’t be disappointed with that.
“Obviously you’re here for a medal, but I gave it my all. I prepared as much as I could and put absolutely everything I could into this year. It was just 10 seconds too slow, I guess.
“With two laps to go on that steep climb the guys absolutely smashed it. I was on my max and there’s nothing you can do.
“It’s a very fair sport, you give what you’ve got, and if you don’t have it you don’t have it, and the top three guys deserved it today.”
Fellow South African Philip Buys suffered a fall at the start of the race, which left him in last place on the first lap. It was a tough break and the going from there was tough. He eventually finished in 35th place, just over 11 minutes behind the winner.
Just how tough was the competition? Consider the case of France’s Jean-Christophe Peraud. He raced for AG2R La Mondiale at the recent Tour De Franc where he finished in 44th place overall out of the 153 finishers. At Hadleigh Farm, he was the 29th of 42 finishers.
The only other South African representatives in action on the final day were Lusapho April, Stephen Mokoka and Coolboy Ngamole in the men’s marathon.
April was the highest finisher of the three, clocking exactly two hours and 19 minutes to finish in 43rd place. Mokoka claimed 49th place, less than a minute later, while Ngamole failed to finish.
Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich raced to victory in 2:08:01 to win his country’s first medal since John Akii-Bua captured the 400 metres hurdles title in Munich 40 years ago in a world record time.
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