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Heroic Burry finishes fifth in brutal race

It was a race that had anyone watching on the edge of their seats. And at the end of 90 minutes of some the most brutal cross country mountain biking that you’re likely to see, Burry Stander crossed the line fifth. Out of the medals but a winner in every other sense, writes Gary Lemke.

The 24-year-old, competing in his second Olympics after finishing 15th in Beijing, rode the race of his life on a course that tested every ounce of skill and strength. The route was precarious and claimed a few victims, the Great British rider Liam Killeen being the most significant, having suffered a broken ankle along the way.

After a gripping contest, the Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhavy prevailed in a sprint finish from the Swiss Nico Schurter, with the Italian Marco Fontana taking bronze, and then Jose Hermida Ramos in fourth, followed on his wheel by Stander, who finished 30 seconds off gold and silver, but only four seconds off bronze.

Stander has honed his skills on the international circuit and he’s also tamed the Cape Epic and is right up there at the forefront of men’s mountain biking. On Sunday he clawed his way back on the treacherous course, one lined by 20,000 spectators in bright sunshine, from 18th position on the first of six completed laps.

While Kulhavy, Schurter and Fontana were never out of the leading group, Stander’s arrival in joining them at the front of the field on the third lap, 15km into the race, will have alarmed them. For the South African with the heart of a lion looked strong on the uphills, and confident on the twists and turns and technical parts. He even put his bike in front and for all the money in the world it looked as though this was to be his day.

Then, on lap five, with 22km behind him, it all looked over as the front trio injected more speed and Stander fell off them, dropping 20 seconds behind for the second time in the race. Clearly, the effort from working his way from behind earlier on, had taken its toll. Or had it?

Again, Stander dug deep into a reservoir of guts and strength that stamps him out as a potential gold medallist in 2016, and he surged back to within sight of the leaders. One moment of madness up front, one mistake or one puncture and he’d be in the medals.

However, on the last lap, despite plugging on manfully, the task was too big. He will know that he didn’t leave an ounce of strength out there on the course. Never before has a fifth place felt like a gold medal, and even if he shows some disappointment at what ÔÇ£might have beenÔÇØ, once he looks at the DVD of the race again he’ll realise just what a hero he looked like to a nation that now takes six medals back home.


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