Nino Schurter, the world's top-ranked cross country mountain biker and reigning world champion, is on a mission - to win the 2014 Cape Epic with South African partner Philip Buys.
"We're going to try to be on the podium - to try to win the race," he said at the pre-race press conference in Cape Town on Thursday.
The Swiss rider has made a name for himself as the world's best in the shorter discipline - cross country events traditionally last about 90 minutes - but will be taking on something more substantial after Sunday's 23km prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate.
The seven stages of the race after the prologue include four of more than 100km - effectively a series of marathon races over several days.
Buys is also regarded more as a cross country specialist - he is the reigning African and national champion - but showed great potential in last year's Epic and has been performing strongly over longer distances recently.
"It's an honour to ride with the fastest rider in the world," said Buys. "We are definitely going for the overall win - we have prepared well and have great support, and I would love to make it worth everyone's effort and time."
"The Epic is a very unpredictable race, so I would say our chances for an overall win can go any direction. I will be content with a GC podium spot and a few stage wins as a bonus."
Schurter described Buys as "super strong" and said they had been doing some training together in Stellenbosch recently. "It's a pleasure to ride with him."
Buys said, "We had a two-week training camp together in Stellenbosch a few weeks ago and I would say that our riding styles do complement each other. We are both quite efficient on the bike. Efficiency saves energy and assures less - or no - mechanical breakdowns."
Round 3 free live video streaming schedule announced
Coming just one week after round 2 of the 2014 USA Cycling US Cup Series presented by Sho-Air Cycling Group in Bonelli Park, Fontana will host round 3 of the world-class mountain bike race series. Top racers, such as Bonelli Park winners Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox Racing) and Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), will be on the start line in Fontana, California, on Saturday, March 22.
"We're excited to host many of the world's best mountain bikers for a second week in a row here in California," said Sho-Air President Scott Tedro. "We expect some more tight battles among North America's and Europe's elite stars in Fontana."
The Fontana race will be a UCI categorized C1 race.
Series standings ahead of Fontana
At the halfway point of the USA Cycling US Cup Series, Canadian Geoff Kabush and Czech Republic native Katerina Nash head into round 3 in Fontana atop the standings.
Kabush leads the men's standings with 80 points ahead of round 1 Mellow Johnny's Classic winner Max Plaxton (Cannondale Factory Racing) with 64 points, US Short Track National Champion Todd Wells (Specialized Racing) with 56 points, Jeremiah Bishop (Sho-Air Cannondale) with 45 points and Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Trek Factory Racing) with 37 points.
Nash is ranked number one among the women with 80 points after winning both the Mellow Johnny's Classic and Bonelli Park. Her teammate Catharine Pendrel is second with 64 points while Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) has moved up to third overall with 57 points. Daniela Campuzano (Mexican National Team) has 49 points in fourth while Geogia Gould (Luna Pro Team) rounds out the top five with 47 points.
Multivan Merida cross country riders look forward to stage race
Spaniard José Hermida and Dutchman Rudi van Houts will participate in this year's Cape Epic starting on Sunday as team Multivan Merida. Hermida, 35, and Van Houts, 30, are a fun-loving pair who are famous for showing spectators what world class mountain biking is all about.
"The Cape Epic is a perfect race to tune your shape for the World Cups, but it is difficult to fight for the overall victory if you have other goals in the season, as it wears yourself out brutally," said Hermida. "Yet, last year we got the leader’s jersey, and it was a great honor to wear it. And of course, once you see yourself up there, passion moves you further than what you would have expected."
Hermida's palmarès speak for themselves. He has completed five Cape Epics, with a total of five stage wins. He took silver at the 2004 Olympic Games and fourth place at the 2012 Olympics. In 2010, he was the cross country world champion and he holds three gold medals at the European cross country championships.
Fresh-faced Van Houts is no softy and has garnered some impressive titles. Apart from his five stage wins at the Cape Epic (riding with Bart Brentjens and Hermida respectively), he is a two-time Dutch cross country champion and has been voted Dutch Mountain Biker of the Year three times. With two victories at the Grand Finale of the Cape Epic into Lourensford Wine Estate (in 2010 and 2013), they definitely have what it takes to get the job done.
According to Hermida, who will be giving amateur riders a witty summary of the day's events in the dining marquee some evenings, the decision to participate in this year's Cape Epic was easy. He said, "I love this race and...
Round one of the 2014 BMC Racing Cup will start this weekend in Buchs and is expected to draw some 800 racers, including a talented elite field. In addition to U23 world champion Jolanda Neff (Live Pro XC) and Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), who is the leader of the UCI world ranking, the women's field includes three more top-10 riders. In the men's race, Fabian Giger (Giant Pro XC) will try to substantiate his excellent start to the season, fighting strong competition like Thomas Litscher (Multivan Merida) and German champion Moritz Milatz (BMC).
It is an established tradition that Buchs, alternating with Schaan, is the host for the Swiss season opener.
The women's start list includes a fair number of world-class riders, five of which are to be found among the top-10 in UCI world ranking. First and foremost: number one Eva Lechner (Colnago Pro) from Italy. This winter she won the bronze medal at the cyclo-cross world championships. After taking a post-'cross season break, she'll be returning to competition on her mountain bike. It's impossible to guess her form and how she will stack up against three-time Olympic medalist Sabine Spitz and against Spitz' Haibike teammate Adelheid Morath, let alone Neff.
Neff has celebrated an outstanding start into the season by winning two Sunshine Cup races in Cyprus. Therefore she is considered to be the favourite. For Neff, Buchs is almost a home race. The 21-year-old will be defending a long series of successes Buchs. Every time she was at the start in Buchs, she has won: in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, although two years ago, she was ill.
"I like the race course very much, and I am really curious if I can continue this [winning] series. In Cyprus, the level of racing was quite high and it 'super cool' to start like that into the new season," said Neff. "I hope this will continue."
However, her last victory in the BMC Racing Cup was two and a half...
US Cup pro cross country series continues in California
The USA Cycling US Cup Series will continue this weekend in Fontana, which will host round 3 of the world-class mountain bike race series. Top racers, such as Bonelli Park winners Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox Racing) and Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), will be on the start line in Fontana, California, on Saturday, March 22.
In addition to being round 3 of the US Cup, Fontana is also round 3 of the US Pro XCT series.
Read the race preview and watch below the live video coverage of the elite men's and women's races.
Saturday, March 23 Fontana Race Schedule (all times Pacific Daylight Time) 11:00 - 11:15 PDT: Elite women cross country - staging and call-up 11:15 - 13:15 PDT: Elite women cross country race 13:30 - 13:45 PDT: Elite men cross country - staging and call-up 13:45 - 15:45 PDT: Elite men cross country race 15:50 - 16:00 PDT: Elite women and men cross country podium ceremony
Just ahead of the start of the 2014 edition, organizers announced that the 2015 Cape Epic will start a week earlier than scheduled after negotiations with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
The Epic will take place from March 15 to 22, 2015. As originally scheduled, it would have clashed with the opening UCI cross country World Cup event, in the Oceania region.
To accommodate the Epic and to give the top professionals an opportunity to recover from the South African event, the UCI also adjusted its calendar - shifting the World Cup event back by a week to April 4.
UCI Off-Road Manager Peter Van den Abeele said his organisation structured its international calendar to take into account other key events. "Of course the UCI World Cup is important, but we have other important events on the calendar that need to be well integrated in order to make it balanced for the riders, teams and national federations," he said.
Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak said, "It's great news and we are very grateful. The Epic was the first ever mountain bike stage race to be granted UCI hors catégorie (beyond categorisation) status, and we have had excellent co-operation with them over the years."
Traditionally, cross country events take about 90 minutes to complete, whereas the Epic consists of a prologue and seven marathon stages - most of more than 100km. The World Cup series consists of seven cross-country events around the world.
Two riders out of race due to doping
Two South African mountain bikers are out of the Cape Epic after failing anti-doping tests. One of the riders has been provisionally suspended by the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) and in the meantime is not eligible to take part in any races sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) - including the Cape Epic. His case is currently being...
Good genes and determination pay off for up and coming Swiss rider
In only his second pro race, Andri Frischknecht (Scott Odlo) made the podium with a third place finish at the BMC Cup in especially brutal conditions in Buchs, Switzerland on Sunday. Frischknecht, a first-year under 23 mountain bike racer, is the son of Thomas Frischknecht.
"Not in my wildest dreams I would see myself on the podium in my only second pro race," said Frischknecht. "It must be a family gene that Frischi's have no problems with severe conditions."
Thomas Frischknecht had a long and productive career as a pro cyclo-cross racer and a mountain biker. Andri's grandfather and Thomas' father was also a 'cross racer who won three silver medals at 'cross Worlds.
The BMC Cup season opener in Buchs was held in severe weather conditions. Although some of the top pros were absent - like Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon, Frischknecht and his riding buddy Lars Forster made their way consistently up through the entire field to pick off one star after the other.
With temperatures around freezing point and heavy snow falling, the race became a battle of suriving.
Thomas Litscher faded as the race progressed. Others like Mathias Flückiger and Fabian Giger had mechanicals. Florian Vogel was leading the first third of the race, but than became a victim of the cold temperatures toward the end. This left an opportunity for the rookies. The under 23 duo of Forster and Frischknecht came through like a train on their way to making the podium.
Australian mountain biker recovered from knee injury
Sam Hill (Team CRC/Nukeproof) is ready to get his downhill mountain bike season underway for 2014. The Australian said he has recovered from a knee injury and is back to full training.
Hill crashed on the first day of practice at the last World Cup of the 2013 season in Leogang, Austria. His injuries required him to undergo surgery to repair his meniscus and ACL.
"The injury came at the end of the season - it was a good time to have a break and time off. Being forced not to be able to do something you love to do makes you more motivated to come back," said Hill. "As much as it was a negative thing at the end of last season, it's probably a positive thing for this season."
"I'll be 100% in South Africa and ready to go. I'll slap a knee brace on and hope for the best," said Hill of the downhill World Cup opener in Pietermaritzburg in early April."
The 28-year-old was the downhill world champion in 2006, 2007 and 2010.
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