Durban - Top South African cyclist Burry Stander was killed on Thursday while returning home from a ride on the South Coast. He was struck by a taxi and died instantly.
Stander, 25, was one of the cycling world’s brightest stars and was part of a trio of twentysomething up-and-coming riders who were expected to dominate the international circuit in years to come.
Just last year he married his long-time cycling sweetheart, Cherise Taylor, also a South African cyclist, and they were often seen riding together on the South Coast.
The accident occurred in Marine Drive, Shelly Beach, when the taxi allegedly turned in front of Stander, police spokeswoman Zandra Wiid said.
The 25-year-old driver was taken to the Port Shepstone police station where a statement was taken. He will be charged with culpable homicide.
Accident reconstruction specialist Craig Proctor-Parker expressed outrage about the “shocking and unneccesary” death.
“Somebody really needs to stand up and be counted in the government and make sure that all these ridiculous accidents are stopped.”
Stander’s loss was devastating to the country and his family, and cyclists’ safety needed to be addressed urgently, Proctor-Parker said.
The tragedy comes as the number of accidents on the roads has reached record levels this holiday season.
Mike Bradley, president of KZN Cycling, could not contain his emotions as he described the Olympian.
“There are certain guys you come across that take on a special role; Burry was one of those guys.”
Stander’s death was a “massive loss” for cycling, with an entire generation of young cyclists losing a role model, Bradley said.
“It is really tragic; there is no respect for cyclists on our roads, and the authorities are not doing enough for cycling and road safety.”
The KZN Mountain Biking Facebook page read: “We cannot express our outrage adequately regarding the untimely and unnecessary death of Burry Stander. Our deepest sympathies and prayers go to Burry’s wonderful and close-knit family.
“Burry was loved and respected by tens of thousands of people all over the world and they will feel the pain of the family. Burry, we loved you in life and we will always love the legacy that you have left. You have been our finest mountain biker ever and one of the best in the world. May you Rest in Peace.”
One of Stander’s biggest rivals, Kevin Evans, was devastated. “The family and the cycling community need to be strong and carry on; Burry was the most talented rider I have ever raced against.”
Stander was, Evans said, the reason why he would get up earlier and train harder – because that was what was needed to try to beat him.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said that it mourned the death of the country’s leading mountain-biker.
Its president, Gideon Sam, said it was terrible news with which to start 2013.
“Burry was the epitome of an Olympic athlete – talented, ultra-competitive, but at the same time extremely humble and a true gentleman,”he said
“Sascoc, the cycling fraternity, and the entire South African sporting community mourn his passing and send our prayers to his wife and family.
“I’ve said this time and again, but it is really time to work even harder at protecting both our runners and cyclists who use the roads daily to do their training.”
Two years ago, another leading South African cyclist, Carla Swart, died when she was hit by a truck while training in the Free State.
On Thursday night, tributes poured in for the cycling champion from across the world within minutes of his death.
Cyclist and London Olympics teammate Daryl Impey said on Twitter: “Rest in Peace Burry Stander – a true legend on and off the bike. Thoughts and prayers for Cherise and family. He’ll always be a hero.”
Michael Posthumus, Stander’s new “strength” coach, tweeted: “I can’t stop shaking, distraught.”
Up-and-coming mountain biker Brendon Davids said on Facebook: “I find myself sitting, peering through tear-filled eyes at the news I never hoped to hear or see. To a man that put me in the right direction, a man who lent me a helping hand on numerous occasions, one that was willing to guide me and mentor me, I thank you.”
Oscar Pistorius tweeted: “Absolutely devastated by the tragic news of Burry Stander’s passing. A South African icon and sporting great. RIP my friend.”
Megan Dando updated: “Today SA lost a true cycling legend! A tragic loss! My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Cherise and family. RIP Burry Stander.”
Alrich Rooy tweeted: “The death of Burry Stander needs to be a wake-up call to what’s happening on South African roads.”
Born in Port Shepstone in 1987, Stander began riding as a 10-year-old and won his first SA title in 1999. As a junior he regularly won races and began racing internationally in 2005.
In 2006 he competed on the international cross-country circuit for the GT International Mountain Bike team and quickly made an impression, which led to his being signed by the top Specialised Racing team.
With multiple national titles under his belt, his breakthrough year as an international rider was in 2008 when he finished in the top five in four World Cup races, including a stunning second in the Spanish leg of the world’s premier mountain bike series. He won the U23 World Championships and was selected for the Beijing Olympics, where he finished 15th and where his romance with Taylor became common knowledge.
By dividing his time between his international commitments and SA he always supported local events and held multiple SA marathon and cross-country titles, but the highlights of his racing in SA were his two Absa Cape Epic victories with Christoph Sauser and a thrilling second at the South African leg of the World Cup.
He won his second World Cup race in the American leg of the series last year, and also put in a brave come-from-behind ride to place fifth at the London Olympics.
Late last year, he opened his third cycling shop, in Ballito, following the success of shops in Waterfall and on the South Coast. All were in partnership with his father and brothers.