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Africa: Team South Africa Profile - Burry Stander

South African cross-country mountain bike star Burry Stander has one overriding goal for 2012: a place on the podium at the London Olympic Games.

To help him achieve this, Stander has taken a different approach to his racing this year and is using scientific analysis and support from the South African Sports Science Institute in Cape Town.

The partnership between Stander and his coach, Doctor Jeroen Swart, an experienced cycling coach and former top mountain bike racer, started in 2011 and is relatively new, but the results have been very encouraging.

Besides the Olympics, Stander's focus for 2012 is the Absa Cape Epic - mark that one off as a success after he recorded a dominating victory with Christoph Sauser - and the RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup.

'Everything else is secondary'

In his own words, though: "My main goal for 2012 is the London Olympics. Everything else is secondary."

Last year, he admitted, was a disappointing one, but the changes he has made for 2012 are paying off. So far, apart from the win in the Epic, Stander's achievements in 2012 have been highlighted by a second place finish in the UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg in front of a vocal home crowd.

Afterwards, he wrote on his blog: "This weekend was nothing short of spectacular - the organisation, atmosphere and support next to the track was amazing. I had some great prep coming into the event and was super motivated to do well."

Stander placed a strong fourth in Houffalize, Belgium at the second World Cup stop, even though it took place a mere two weeks after the very strenuous Absa Cape Epic.

Gold medal contenders

In round three, at Nové Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic, he was back on the podium, trailing only Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kulhavy, whom most would peg as the strongest contenders for the Olympic gold medal.

Round four, at La Bresse in France, earlier this month, did not go to plan, as Stander explained on his blog: "I managed to get over the first climb in fifth and felt good as we set up for the first downhill. This, however, would be where my weekend took a turn.

"I got rammed from behind and pushed off the track. Stunned, at first it took a while for me to get back up to the trail, and once I got going I realized my front tyre had come off the rim. So I rolled down to the technical zone and changed a wheel.

"Once I restarted I was pretty much last. I had to reset my goals for the day and just focus on scoring some points."

Ultimately, Stander finished 24th, which, given his misfortune, was not a bad result as he had been around 120th position when he crashed. In some ways, this result says more about his ability than his other top finishes.

Far from a pipe dream

Clearly, though, his three earlier results are more accurate reflections of his form. They indicate that his wish to medal in the London Olympics is far from a pipe dream. It's a distinct possibility.

Stander was able to train on the course that will be used for the London Olympics in April and deemed it a "worthwhile trip".

World number one Jaroslav Kulhavy is one of his team-mates at Team Specialized Racing and having two of the world's premier cross-country riders training together can only be good for improving their standards and challenging their limits.

Successes

Stander has experience of success on the world's biggest stages, with his victory in the under-23 cross country at the 2009 UCI World Championships being one of the highlights of his career.

In 2008, the South African star placed 15th at the Beijing Olympics. Four years later, he will enter the London Olympics as a far better rider.

Consider that since 2008 he has won the World Championships under-23 title, placed third in men's elite cross-country at the 2010 World Championships, and lifted the Absa Cape Epic title in 2011 and 2012.

Given those past successes and his present form, Burry Stander deserves far greater consideration as a potential Olympic medal winner, especially from South African Olympic team supporters.

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