Stander leads SA cycling bid for Olympic medals
Mountainbike master Burry Stander will lead the South African cycling team’s bid for podium finishes at the London Olympic Games.
While each of the cyclists in the nine-member team — competing in the road, mountainbiking, BMX and track disciplines — has shown potential over the last few years, Stander is perhaps the country’s strongest medal contender.
The 24-year-old could go into his second Olympic Games as the world’s top cross-country rider, depending on his result in the final leg of the UCI World Cup cross-country series in France on July 28.
The other two members of the SA mountainbike team, Phillip Buys and Candice Neethling, are seen as prospects for the 2016 Games in Rio.
Meanwhile, BMX ace Sifiso Nhlapo will hope to make up for the disappointment in Beijing four years ago when he crashed out of the final in the discipline’s maiden appearance at the Games.
While Nhlapo has struggled with his form, due to a spate of injuries over the last few years, the gritty rider remains a strong contender for a podium place.
And while the pre-Games focus has weighed heavily on Stander and Nhlapo, SA cycling team manager Barry Austin said this week the country’s road cyclists also stood a realistic chance of pushing South Africa up the medals table.
The sole representative in the men’s road race, Darryl Impey, had proved his ability this season, according to Austin.
“He recently came fifth in a Tour de France stage and got another top 10 as well,” Austin said.
“The nice thing is that the stage where he got his fifth place almost resembles what will happen at the Olympics.
“The drawback is that he is only one, and other teams are teams of five, so obviously he has to play his cards right, but with a bit of luck and a bit of confidence he should pull off something good.”
The women’s team will be anchored by Ashleigh Moolman, who is 23rd in the world rankings and boasts a top-10 finish at the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile early in July.
“We are really banking on her to do something and she’s got good support in Robyn de Groot and Joanna van der Winkel,” Austin said.
“They ride for the same team in Europe, they know each other well and they are training specifically to implement a strategy to win the race.” South Africa’s top track cyclist, Bernard Esterhuizen, completes the team, having earned his place at the Games after breaking two national records over the last year.
The 19-year-old, who has been based at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Switzerland since 2009, has been groomed as a medal prospect for 2016.
SA cycling team: Road: Darryl Impey, Robyn Lee de Groot, Ashleigh Moolman, Joanna van der Winkel.
Mountainbike: Phillip Buys, Candice Neethling, Burry Stander.
BMX: Sifiso Nhlapo.
Track: Bernard Esterhuizen.