Elite and standard squads and their rosters revealed
The UCI published the official list of its Mountain Bike Teams for 2013 on Thursday, including those that will race as "UCI Elite Mountain Bike Teams" and those that will race as "UCI Mountain Bike Teams".
The globalisation of the mountain bike discipline continues, with 27 countries registering at least one team, compared with 24 last year. The new nations with a UCI Mountain Bike Team are Brazil, Denmark and Finland.
Of the 127 teams registered for the 2013 season, 15 endurance (XCO) teams and 15 gravity (DH) teams will obtain "elite" status. This higher tier of mountain bike teams will benefit from advantages such as free entry to all races on the UCI Mountain Bike International Calendar, including the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup events. In return, they are obliged to enter at least one rider in all rounds of the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, which is still in need of a title sponsor for 2013.
Invitations to obtain UCI Elite Mountain Bike status were issued to the top teams of a special ranking, which was established on the basis of the individual UCI points won in 2012 by the best riders of the 2013 teams.
These teams have until March 1st to confirm their status "elite" and pay the corresponding fee.
The list of the UCI Elite Mountain Bike Teams for 2013, in ranking order, is:
- Giant Pro XC Team
- Specialized Racing XC
- BH - Suntour - KMC
- Trek Factory Racing
- Multivan Merida Biking Team
- Luna Pro Team
- BMC Mountainbike Racing Team
- Ghost Factory Racing Team
- Scott Swisspower MTB Racing Team
- Sabine Spitz Haibike Pro Team
- Superior Brentjens Mountainbike Racing Team
- Topeak Ergon Racing Team
- Cannondale Factory Racing
- Wild Wolf Trek Pro Racing
- TX Active Bianchi
- GT Factory Racing
- Lapierre International
- MS Mondraker Team
- Santa Cruz Syndicate
- Commencal / Riding Addiction
- Hutchinson UR
- Devinci Global Racing
- Trek World Racing
- Specialized Racing DH
- Chain Reaction Cycles.Com / Nukeproof
- Madison Saracen Downhill Team
- RRP Ghost
- Giant Factory Off-Road Team
- SC Intense
U23 and junior riders get ready to focus on Pro XCTs and nationals
Fourteen junior and U23 riders gathered the Whole Athlete Performance Center in Northern California last weekend for the Whole Athlete / Specialized Cycling Team's 2013 season kick-off camp. The young riders were treated to two full days of riding, sponsor introductions, product demos, organic food, yoga, and much more.
Having earned the distinction of USA Cycling's Mountain Bike Club of the Year for the second year running, the team looks to build upon its 2012 season success which included Kate Courtney's first-ever cross country World Cup win by a US junior woman and Marcus Segedin taking the junior 15-16 cross country national title.
For the 2013 season, the team's focus once again will be the US Pro XCT series and national championships, as well as select World Cups and the world championships.
Among the returning riders for 2013 are 2012 Junior 15-16 cross country national champion Marcus Segedin, 2012 World Championship Team members Lucas Newcomb, Kate Courtney, and Casey Williams, and 2012 Collegiate D2 cross country and short track national champ Cypress Gorry.
Elite and junior downhillers set on different squads for 2013
Both the current elite and junior women's downhill world champions have switched teams for the 2013 season. Elite champ Morgane Charre will race for MS Mondraker while junior champ Holly Feniak has signed with Hutchinson UR.
Eliminator world champ and German national champ return to Sunshine Cup
Eliminator world champion Alexandra Engen and German national champion Manuel Fumic are among the racers who will compete at the opening round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup in Voroklini on February 23.
Engen is a Cyprus Sunshine Cup regular. The 25-year-old Swede has previously kicked off her season on Cyprus as she gets her legs back into racing mode. However, last year, Engen had some bad luck, injuring her wrist in a crash that put her chances of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games at risk.
The injury didn't hold back Engen for long, and in London, she finished in sixth place. Four weeks later, the Ghost Factory Racing rider celebrated her biggest career win to date by taking victory in the first-ever eliminator world championship in Saalfelden, Austria.
Engen will race all three rounds of the Sunshine Cup in 2013. She'll be joined by two of her teammates, Katrin Leumann of Switzerland and Elisabeth Osl of Austria, at round 2, the Afxentia stage race, and at round 3 at Amathous. Leumann is a former European champion and Osl has previously won a World Cup.
Fumic takes on Kulhavy
Last year, Fumic raced Jaroslav Kulhavy, maintaining contact with him for awhile at the Voroklini round before he crashed and ended up finishing fourth.
This year, Fumic will again race the opener in Voroklini, and like Kulhavy, the German is also using the event to prepare for his first-ever Cape Epic mountain bike stage race participation in March.
Fumic will arrive in Cyprus with his two U23 Cannondale Factory Racing teammates, Anton Cooper of New Zealand and Keegan Swenson of the United States. 2012 junior world champ Cooper has already been busy racing at home in New Zealand, where this weekend in Hunua, he beat all the elite men.
2013 Sunshine Cup
February 23: Voroklini (C1)
March 1 to 3: Afxentia Macheras Mountains (SHC)
March 10: Amathous-Agios-Tychon (C1)
Cooper and Ragot among favorites for cross country, downhill
It's been seven years since New Zealand hosted the mountain bike world championships, but this coming weekend will be another big one in Rotorua. It includes the final part of a 10-day Bike Festival and the New Zealand Mountain Bike National Championships.
"This is probably the biggest weekend of cycling the city has experienced since we hosted the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in 2006," says Martin Croft, from Rotorua Events & Venues.
The 2013 nationals begin on Saturday with the cross country races. 2012 junior world champion Anton Cooper will be among the favorites at the start line. The 18-year-old won the world title in Austria last September and is the first New Zealand mountain biker to win a rainbow jersey in the Olympic discipline of cross country.
"It is a huge honour to have a rainbow jersey to my name and something I am very proud of," said Cooper. "It feels great to bring it home, and I look forward to racing the national champs with a world title to my name."
Cooper is about to embark on a big year of racing the UCI World Cup series as a full-time professional with his new team Cannondale Factory Racing.
"I've only ever done two races in Rotorua, and they were just small ones," said Cooper with his trademark grin. "I think the flowy nature of the trails is a lot different to the places I normally race on, which is good for variety - and the amount of trails, here, is endless!"
Cooper won't have an easy ride. Locals, like Dirk Peters and Carl Jones, know the Whakarewarewa trails like their own hands.
In the elite women's cross country, London Olympian Karen Hanlen will start favourite after a dominant win at last weekend's national series round at Hunua.
Two-time elite women's downhill world champion Emmeline Ragot will also take on the Taniwha in Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest on Sunday. Being a French woman, she won't be eligible for the 2013 New Zealand title. However, she will be part of a star-studded line up on a fearsome and dramatic course.
"I know the Taniwha track from four years ago, and and I really like this course," said Ragot. The French pro is also looking forward to sampling the world-famous trails in Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest.
"I'll be in Rotorua all week, and I've already tried a couple of trails on my cross country bike," said Ragot. "It's good to ride here, there are all the tracks that we need - Rotorua trails are awesome."
She is in New Zealand racing alongside La Pierre teammate, Sam Blenkinsop. The Kiwi pro is looking to continue his domination of the New Zealand summer season at the national championships. He's taken out three rounds of the national series, but won't have it all his own way in Rotorua.
The cream of the country's downhill talent - including former junior downhill world champions, Brook MacDonald and Cam Cole, and local favourite, Louis Hamilton - will also be racing.
Enduro racing will make its debut in Rotorua on Sunday. The Giant 2W Gravity Enduro is a multi-stage race that will highlight the fast, undulating trails the Whakarewarewa Network is renowned for.
Enduro combines the endurance of a cross country athlete and the technical skills of an experienced mountain biker.
Rosara Joseph is one of New Zealand's top cross country riders of the last decade and will be on the start line. She represented New Zealand in cross country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, UCI World Cups and world championships and won silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne
She's a fan of the new Enduro format. "It combines fitness and strength with fast, technical riding. It's mentally and physically challenging - and a whole lot of fun," she said.
Joseph has fond memories of riding the Rotorua trails. "There's such variety in such a small space - jumps tracks, smooth swooping tracks, steep and rooty tracks - it's all around fabulous," she continues."
Joseph has raced in Rotorua previously at rounds of the National Series, Oceania Championships and the World Championships in 2006. "My favourite racing memory from Rotorua would be those World Champs in 2006," she said with a grin. "It was early in my racing career, and I absolutely loved racing at home, on a great track and with a supportive and raucous crowd."
The weather has been perfect for the festival so far and the forecast is for fine, hot weather through till Sunday.
"The Festival has gone really well up till now," says Martin Croft. "If you're a Kiwi bike fan and not in Rotorua already, you probably should be."
Slimmed down team features both young and established talent
The Multivan Merida Biking Team's 2013 presentation wasn’t all about the numbers, but there were some significant ones to acknowledge. As Merida enter their 41st year, one of their longest serving riders and a team captain turned 40 years old. Ever the professional, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja took to the stage at the head of proceedings, only to be surprised by a huge bouquet of roses presented by Merida International's Senior Vice President William Yeng.
For 2013, the team are focussing solely on cross country, and have released marathon specialists Ralph Naf, Jochen Kass, Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler, instead bringing in a couple of young guns in the shape of 2011 and 2012 under 23 world champions Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink.
2012 was a year in which four Merida riders lined up at the London Olympic Games, and only just missed out on a medal with Jose Hermida's fourth in the men's race. Dahle Flesja's race fell apart early on due to a crash and a mechanical, but she bounced back by winning silver at the world championships to add to her European crown. In winning two World Cup races, she equalled Julie Furtado's all time record of 28 victories, and with her continuing form, has every chance of taking the record outright. Silver in the marathon world championships and second overall in the World Cup shows the Norwegian has lost none of her power.
Dahle Flesja believes that her 16 years of experience counts for a lot still and can make the difference between her and the younger generation. She feels like she's coming back in to her best form following the birth of her son, and that should be a warning considering 2013's World Cup Final and 2014's world championships will be held in Norway.
Finishing in the top five of the World Cup overall standings for 12 consecutive years, Jose Hermida remains a very competitive legend of the sport. Hermida still has great passion for the sport, and at 34, still has fun and great ambition. He enjoys being pushed by new riders, and believes that some of the missed wins or podiums in 2012 were simply bad luck, whereas in previous years he might have been more fortunate. Merida's other team captain still wants to win, and hopes the new 650B bike he's testing will give him that little extra in the next season.
Dutch mountain biker of the year once again, Rudi Van Houts shared victory in the 2012 Andalucia Bike Race with Hermida, was sixth in the European Championships and 12th at the Worlds. A regular top 15 finisher in World Cup races, Van Houts wants to step up to top eight if possible for Merida and the Dutch national team. With a good start, he's been enjoying eliminator races, and finishes quickly on some courses, so is looking forward to competing for the win more often. Despite Merida pulling back from marathon racing, Hermida and Van Houts will will be racing the ABSA Cape Epic and Andalucia Bike Race together and aiming for the win.
Since his under 23 world championship win in 2011, Thomas Litscher endured a trying 2012. Health issues kept him from training early in the year, and when he regained his fitness he missed out on Olympic selection, then broke a bone in his hand before the Worlds, so he finished his season early. Still only 23, and back to full fitness, the Swiss rider is aiming at the top 10 and hopefully the World Cup podium in the near future, with the elite world title as a long term goal. He also loves sprinting, and the eliminator championship is a big aim this year.
The youngest rider at the London Olympic cross country race was Czech Ondrej Cink, who at 21 finished in an impressive 14th place, which he followed up with the world and European under 23 titles and fifth in the under 23 World Cup overall. In such a historically successful team, Cink is the only current world champion, but doesn't feel any pressure because of it. Preferring long, steep climbs and racing on full-suspension only, his sporting idol is unusually Usain Bolt. Explaining his reasoning, he said that while he'd like to have the success of Hermida in time, he wants to be as fast as Bolt. Before now he hasn't had the chance to race many eliminator races as he was always racing cross country the following day, but now he’s looking forward to pitting his natural speed against the sprint events too.
With a slimmed down and refocused five-rider team for 2013, Multivan Merida look to have a good combination of youth and experience with a range of specialities that should yield results as they race world wide between February and September.
Hermida, Lakata, Langvad and Fullana among the starters
The Andalucia Bike Race, a mountain bike stage race in Spain in late February, is drawing several former world champions to its start line as well as hundreds of other professionals and amateurs. The third edition of the race will take place in Córdoba and Jaén, Spain, from February 24 to March 1.
2010 cross country world champion Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) will be among the starters. After winning the Andalucia Bike Race last year, he is aiming to repeat victory with his same partner, Dutchman Rudi van Houts.
"I am facing 2013 with the same passion as usual, after enjoying a winter without 'cross that has allowed me to rest," said Hermida at a recent Multivan Merida team launch. "I am looking forward to the start of the racing season."
Competition will come from racers like Sergio Mantecón and Carlos Coloma, who will team up for Trek-Wildwolf.
Former U23 cross country world champions Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink will also be in Andalucia as well as former marathon world champion Alban Lakata and his Topeak Ergon teammate Robert Mennen. Others to watch are Germans Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Käss, who are regular top 10 finishers at major international stage races.
In the women's category, Britain's Sally Bigham, ranked UCI number one, will aim to repeat victory with Milena Landtwing, but they will face the strongest women's field yet at the race. Spaniards Anna Villar and Nuria Picas; Danes Helle Qvortrup Bachmann and Rikke Kornvig; and SpaniardMarga Fullana will be on the start line. Fullana is a former cross country world champion.
Marathon world champion Annika Langvad will race in the mixed category and the first Spaniard to win a mountain bike World Cup race, Tomás Misser, will race among the Masters 30+.
In total, over 670 participants from 24 different countries from as far as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bolivia and Puerto Rico will race in Andalucía. They will cover 400km in six stages and with 13,000m of climbing.
It will be the 29-year-old Flückiger's fourth Cape Epic. He finished fourth overall in 2010 and also has four stage wins to his name to date. 2013 will mark the first time that Flückiger is not riding with his younger brother Mathias.
"I really like the spirit and the location of the race. I like South Africa and its people," said Flückiger, who finished second at the 2012 cross country world championships.
"We see it as fun and not only as a race. Both of us have participated in the race before and know how to race over eight days. We're really confident that we can win one, two or three stages. However, it's hard to say what will happen in the GC. There are many strong teams this year, but our goal is to finish in the top three."
2012 eliminator world champion Näf will again prove that he has the ability to race fast whether over short or long distances. The 32-year-old will be doing his third Cape Epic and has previously earned two stage wins.
"It's a good way to start the 2013 season," said Näf. "Lukas and I are good friends, hopefully also after the Epic, and we both have the same goals. We'll have to see whether we're a good combination, but we'll have a lot of fun for sure and hopefully win a few stages and finish on the podium."
The two are doing a two-week training camp to prepare.
Flückiger said that he finds the first stages the most difficult and the final stage the most rewarding. "You're always over motivated and go over you limit. Crossing the finish line on the final stage is the most emotional time in the eight days. You feel so free. My best memory of the race was when Mathias and I won the final stage two years ago after a very difficult week with bad luck and illness."
His first Cape Epic was the toughest for Flückiger. "We didn't know we had to ride and made so many mistakes. We rode too fast in the first stages and burnt out in the last stages. Of course, the best part of the experience is to cross the finish line after eight days - it's always a great experience. The worst part is if you start not feeling well and try to recover during the week." The one word that sums up the event for him is "unpredictable".
Flückiger is hoping to back up his silver medal at the 2012 cross country Worlds with another medal at the 2013 Worlds in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Näf recalled that his favorite Cape Epic memory. "It was when José [Hermida] and I won our first stage together. We tried so hard for days before. The worst part of the race is getting up at 5:00 am and the best part is the food you get along the way."