Stander, Neethling Top Strong Field For Mankele

    Series leaders Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized) and Andrew Neethling (Trek) head up a strong men’s mountain bike racing fields at the second round of the MTN National Cup at Mankele, Mpumalanga this weekend.

    With the first round of the 2009 Nissan World Cup taking place in Pietermaritzburg this April, there’s new enthusiasm among South Africa’s top cross-country and downhill racers as they vie for qualification to compete in the prestigious international event.

    International Cycling Union (UCI) rankings points are up for grabs at all five rounds of the 2009 MTN National Cup Series which has resulted in a record entry for this weekend’s racing, including most of the big names.

    Stander, the Under-23 World Cup cross-country champion, won the first round in Stellenbosch last month in convincing fashion and there’s every chance he’ll put a few minutes into his rivals again on Saturday on a technical course that suits him perfectly. However, nothing is certain in mountain bike racing and a string of contenders will be out in force to, at best try and topple Stander, or at least scrap it out for the minor podium places and useful UCI points.

    Renay Goustra (GT), Johnny Kritzinger (Schwinn) and Craig Paul (Jeep) second, third and fourth respectively in Stellenbosch will spearhead the challenge along with South African Elite champion, Brandon Stewart and African Elite champion Ben-Melt Swanepoel (both DCM Chrome), and their teammates Max Knox, Bryce Munro and Justice Makhale.

    The Garmin adidias team will also provide a few podium contenders in Francois Theron, Philip Buys, Mannie Heymans and Marc Bassingthwaighte.

    In the women’s cross-country race, Stellenbosch round winner, Sara Muhl (Jeep) will start as favourite but will have a resurgent Tania Raats (Bell Equipment) to contend with. Raats experienced some mechanical trouble in Stellenbosch, which hindered her victory quest and will be hoping for a trouble-free race on Saturday on a course the suits her strong climbing ability. Others likely to be in the podium mix include Shawna Thunder (Leigh Group) and Julia Colvin (Maverick).

    For Sunday’s downhill event, Neethling, winner of the first round last month, is the firm favourite. His brother Jonty Neethling (Fox Morewood), Travis Browning (Morewood) and juniors Pierre van der Merwe and Hayden Brown are expected to put up stern resistance on a course that’s fast and flowing, but likely to be slippery after a few days of rain.

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