South African mountain bike ace Burry Stander would have attempted to win a third Absa Cape Epic title in succession in 2013. Following his untimely death, his former team-mate, Olympic cross-country champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, has stepped up to ride in Stander's place.
The Czech star, who rode with Stander for Team Specialized, has announced he will team up with Christoph Sauser, another member of the team and Stander's regular partner in the Epic, for the 2013 event.
It will be a bittersweet entry for the race organisers. Having the Olympic champion in the event will be a feather in their cap. Unfortunately, he will be riding in memory of his former team-mate, a South African hero.
Stander made Cape Epic history in 2011 when he became the first ever South African winner of the event. He made his debut in 2008 and in total won 20 stages with Sauser and was twice the overall winner.
Only Sauser, with 26 stage wins, has more victories in the race than Stander.
Kulhavy, who will also be in action in the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Pietermaritzburg in August, wrote on his website: "First few days of the New Year were not good. Certainly, the 3rd January was one of the worst days in my life.
'A great figure of our sport'
"As all of you probably know, Burry Stander was killed while training in South Africa. He was a great figure of our sport and first of all, our very good friend and team member," Kulhavy wrote.
"With this terrible time is also related a small change of my plans for the spring part of the season. In last days I got a message from my teammate and Burry's very good friend Christoph Sauser. He wrote 'Let's win the Cape Epic!' I could not refuse any longer, so we are going together with Susi to ride and fight world's biggest mountainbike stage race for Burry.
The Absa Cape Epic
"From 17th to 24th March 2013, we are going to do 8 stages in South Africa with total length of 698 kilometres and elevation over 15 000 metres."
Kulhavy won the Olympic title in London last year, with Stander in fifth place. Stander, however, just edged out his team-mate for second place in the year-end UCI cross-country rankings, which were led by Switzerland's Nino Schurter.
Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy remembered his former team-mate Burry Stander with this picture on his website (Photo: Jaroslav Kulhavy Official Website)