South Africa’s hopes of an Olympic medal in mountain biking received a timely boost when Burry Stander (Specialized/USN) claimed victory in a dramatic Round 6 of the UCI Olympic Cross-country (XCO) World Cup in Windham, New York on Saturday.

Stander, currently eighth on the International Cycling Union world rankings, has been touted as a likely medal winner at the Olympic Games in London next month. But his victory on Saturday, which pushed him up to second in the World Cup Series rankings, served as confirmation that he’s firmly on track to challenge for that coveted podium place at the Games.

“It was quite a nice surprise to win today. It was very hot, but coming from South Africa I’m used to the heat,” Stander told the media afterwards. “There’s some really close racing in the World Cups and it’s tough, but you have to find your rhythm and here in Windham you have to be careful on the downhill sections because you can easily get puncture there.”

One of Stander’s main rivals, Germany’s Manuel Fumic, punctured while at the front with Stander, eliminating him from a shot at the podium, while Czech World Champion, Jaroslav Kulhavy faded early on, citing the extreme heat as the reason.

“I knew flat tyres were going to be an issue,” Stander explained. “ I’ve had my share of mechanical issues over the past few World Cup races, so it was nice be on the other side today.”

With one and a half laps remaining Stander attacked with an intensity that his two nearest rivals at the time, Spain’s Sergio Mantecon and Italy’s Marco Fontana, were unable to counter. The 26-year-old South African then extended his lead to claim his second ever World Cup victory.

“Today I just decided to ride my own speed and not worry about anyone else, just ride controlled. I made sure at the top of the climb I went into the singletrack first and I could control the speed on the way down, not taking any chances. Then, ja, towards the end I knew with the endurance coming into play and the heat it would be good for me."

Stander pointed out the importance of nutrition in the extreme heat. He’s been fine-tuning his nutrition and supplementation in the build-up to the Olympic Games in conjunction with his coach, Sports Scientist, Dr Jeroen Swart.

“We race these cross-country races at such a high intensity that managing my energy levels is really critical. A slight dip in energy can make the difference between a good race and a bad one,” explained Stander.

“Today I made sure I drank a lot because of the heat. My race drink, USN BCAA Vitargo, is a very pure, fast-acting carb and protein mix with no sweeteners or colourants. Later in the race I used Cytogel, energy gels with high concentration of caffeine for an additional boost. My energy levels were good throughout and that’s why I was able to put in a big attack when I did.”

Standers is now just 12 points behind World Cup Series leader, Switzerland’s Nino Schurter. With one round remaining, in France on 28 July, the world’s most prestigious mountain bike series is set for an exciting finale. Stander’s highest finish in the World Cup Series was third in 2009.