World Cup leader Neff one to watch in women's race
The fourth round of the BMC Racing Cup 2014 in Graenichen, Switzerland follows one week after the European Championships, and 11 medallists from last week's championships will be in attendance. The men's race promises part 2 of a duel between newly crowned European Champion Julien Absalon (BMC Racing) and silver medalist Fabian Giger (Giant Pro XC). In addition to Absalon, Jolanda Neff (Liv Giant) will be another World Cup leader who will line up at the start of the women's race.
The short, 4.2-kilometre course is a fan favourite due to its easy access for spectators, and the spectators will very likely have a chance to see a renewed rivalry between Giger and Absalon. The Frenchman had to give it all in St. Wendel last weekend until he finally managed to leave the diehard Swiss rider behind in a last lap effort.
Absalon, the most successful mountain biker of all time, is rather modest in his preview of the fourth round of the BMC Racing Cup. "I will do my best for sure, but will it suffice for another victory? I cannot tell for sure," he said. "Depending on how the race will develop, I will maybe be in a position to help Lukas in defending his title." Absalon succeeded in doing just that a year ago, when he was second behind teammate Lukas Flueckiger.
Giger will lead the Frenchman's competitors in Graenichen. "We are all coming to the end of three turbulent weeks. I hope that my shape is still good enough to give Absalon a sound grilling again," said Giger.
After just having gone through a rather disappointing spring season, last year's winner Lukas Flueckiger is very guarded concerning his expectations for the race on Sunday. "I hope that everything goes well, but there isn't much of a chance that things will turn around 180 degrees all of a sudden. Nevertheless, I will do my best, and it would be great if I could gain a good feeling before we all take a short break from racing," said Flueckiger.
His brother Mathias Flueckiger (Stoeckli Pro) had skipped the European Championships, doing some training sessions in the Ticino region instead. Most likely, he will show up a little bit better rested at the start line than most of his competitors. Since German champion Moritz Milatz will not be at the start due to illness, Mathias Flueckiger has the chance to take the lead in the overall standings.
Florian Vogel (Scott-Odlo) had been fighting for the bronze medal in St. Wendel, before he crashed and broke his saddle. Given his current fitness, he may also be involved in the fight for the podium in Graenichen.
Neff faces challenge from European eliminator champ
Jolanda Neff is the woman to beat in the elite women's category. The under 23 rider leads in the elite category of the overall World Cup ranking and has overcome her profound disappointment about the unfortunate incident at the Under 23 Europen Championships race in St. Wendel where she and Frenchwoman Pauline Ferrand Prevot crashed in the final sprint for gold, and Neff ultimately drew the short straw. Now, Neff intends to reclaim the overall lead in the BMC Racing Cup.
Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz-Haibike) is only three points ahead of Neff, but Stirnemann will have a home advantage in Graenichen. Additionally, Stirnemann developed lots of motivation during a very successful European Championships weekend. She won gold in the eliminator competititon and was seventh overall and best Swiss womam in the cross country race. "Now I am looking forward to my home race," she said.
The race in Graenichen also offers a chance to shine for Esther Suess. "It will be a very tough and exciting race, that's for sure, and I hope I will be able to have a say in it. Anyway, I am definitely looking forward to it, and I hope I will hear many spectators cheering me," said Suess, who won bronze at the world championships in 2013.
Aside from the Swiss ladies, Maja Wloszczowska, bronze medalist at the European Championships, will also be on the hunt for UCI points in this HC-category race. After having had some health problems in winter, Neff's Polish teammate has been in better and better shape week after week.
Russia's Irina Kalentieva (Rusvelo) should also be taken into account although - suffering from the heat - she missed the top positions in St. Wendel.
Finally, last year's winner Adelheid Morath will also be on the start line. But Stirnemann's German teammate will be impeded by an injury which she received when she crashed at the World Cup in Albstadt. "My body is just at the limit right now, but I have good memories of Graenichen," said Morath. She does not believe, however, that she will be able to score a coup again.
Fortunately for racers, the weather is likely to be more normal - not nearly as hot as at the European championships in St. Wendel last weekend.
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