To the surprise of absolutely no one, Burry Stander (South Africa) successfully defended his title in the under-23 men's cross-country on Friday at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Canberra, Australia. Alexis Vuillermoz (France) took second at 1:21, with Switzerland's Thomas Litscher winning the bronze medal, 2:46 down. The top North American was U.S. rider Robbie Squire in 32nd, 11:25 behind Stander.
"The couple of days leading up to the race was pretty nerve wracking, and today I was just focused on the start,” said Stander. “I knew it would play a vital part of the race. Unfortunately, we had a really strong headwind so it wasn't possible to try to take the lead from the beginning. You had to try to take your chances in the group, and then wait just before the single track to make your move.
“Fortunately for me, things worked out and I got into the trail second, and from there the race went perfect,” he added. “I just tried to keep it smooth, and my Specialized full suspension just worked great out there. The course was getting tougher and tougher, and really bumpy, and to me it went perfect and I am really, really happy."
The six lap race saw Litscher attack strongly in the first lap, with Stander glued to his wheel. A chase group of six formed 25 seconds behind, including Mattias Wengelin (Sweden), Marek Konwa (Poland), Vuillermoz, Peter Sagan, Mathias Flückiger (Switzerland) and Catriel Andres Soto (Argentina).
"[The overnight rain] made the course quite a bit better I think, the course was getting really loose out there and for the first couple of laps it was really compacted and fast, and towards the end it started getting pretty loose and ridden out again,” said Stander. I think the rain did it a bit of good.
"My biggest fear was the start, but they [the Swiss] controlled the race from the beginning after the first straight and they got the first guy into the single track and I almost let another guy go in front of me, and I only just managed to get past the second Swiss guy going into the trail and from there it was perfect,” he added. “On the single track there is not much you can do as a team. On the switchback climb we set such a quick pace that it immediately opened up to the next group.”
Then Stander opened it up on the Cardiac Arrest climb, and that was it ... the rest of the race was for second as the number two rider in the overall World Cup standings steadily increased his lead through the remainder of the race.
Vuillermoz overtook a fading Litscher in the third lap, with Sagan and Konwa chasing for third. As the race continued, the front three continued to distance themselves from the chasers, with Sagan and Konwa managing to hold on for fourth and fifth respectively.
For full results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.