BMC Racing Team rider and French National Champion Julien Absalon will return to Pietermaritzburg with his eyes firmly set on putting behind the injury he suffered there in 2013 when the first leg of the 2014 UCI MTB World Cup season gets underway in Pietermaritzburg in mid-April
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Final test for some at Lugano round of BMC Cup
Led by two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon (BMC Racing Team) and three-time Olympic medalist Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz Haibike), world-class fields are expected to contest the second round of the BMC Racing Cup in Tesserete on April 5 and 6. This race event near Lugano in Switzerland is a final test right before next weekend's UCI Mountain Bike World Cup opener in South Africa for many - not least for Swiss hopefuls Mathias Flückiger and Jolanda Neff.
"This is a very important race for me, a crucial race even," said the Stöckli rider Flückiger. With only seven days to go to the first World Cup race of the season, it is especially important for him "to get into race rhythm". That means to implement all processes and to confront your body with the intensity of competition - a kind of dress rehearsal.
Given this rehearsal status, it's quite good that both race circuits, the one in Tesserete as well as the one in Pietermaritzburg, are technically difficult and very demanding. "Despite having suffered a puncture, I was able to collect much self-confidence and motivation at the BMC Racing Cup in Buchs," said Flückiger, who was the bronze medalist at the world championships in 2012. After the puncture was fixed, he had scored fastest laps only in the Canton of St. Gallen.
At that point in time, Moritz Milatz had already moved into the lead, and he finally claimed victory in Buchs. Therefore the German champion currently is the overall leader of the BMC Racing Cup. And he has fond memories of the six-kilometer course in Tesserete. In 2012, he managed to win his first race in the Swiss series there, and in 2013 world champion Nino Schurter (Scott Odlo) beat him only by six seconds.
"Due to the cold weather during the race in Buchs, I was feeling somewhat tired afterwards, but I think I will be fit again on Sunday. In my opinion, the Tesserete circuit is really cool. Of course, you should be cautious not to annihilate yourself right before you enter the plane to South Africa," said the 31-year-old, referring to both the avoidance of crashes as well as the avoidance of utter physical exhaustion.
Last Sunday in Italy, Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) celebrated a successful comeback after having suffered a muscle injury. He was third behind Marco Fontana (Cannondale) and Florian Vogel (Scott Odlo). "I was amazed that everything was going so well. I still lacked some punch at the start, but then my training seems to have paid off. I will try to get even more self-confidence in Tesserete," said Naef.
His teammate Absalon seems to have gained enough self-confidence already. The BMC captain has brought himself into position by winnning the Raider Cap Esterel last weekend. Just like his teammate Moritz Milatz, Absalon plans to profit from the Cup on Sunday by putting the finishing touches on his World Cup form.
Concerning the rest of the competition in Tesserete, BMC will have some ambitious rivals: Ondrej Cink, fourth in the overall world ranking, his Multivan-Merida teammate Thomas Litscher, Fabian Giger and his Dutch teammate Michiel van der Heijden (Giant Pro XC), and the Japanese Specialized race Kohei Yamamoto.
The women's start list is just as impressive as the men's. According to her accumulated successes, Sabine Spitz claims the top-spot. There are three Olympic medals - gold, silver, bronze - in her display cabinet in Murg-Niederhof, close to the Swiss border. Plus European championship medals and one world championship gold medal (2003 Lugano).
"Right before the World Cup, I think it is important to feel the strain of competition once again. I feel good and am curious what that's worth. I like the circuit in Tesserete, it's certainly not a bad preparation for Pietermaritzburg," said the 42-year-old German champion.
Jolanda Neff is just half the age of her German competitor, but this year the woman from Thal is on her way to being one of the stars. So far she has earned four victories in four races in 2014. With the exception of two stages at the Afxentia in Cyprus, the 21-year-old is still unbeaten in 2014. "That's cool, and I would not mind if it continues. But one has to take each race as it comes and then enjoy it," said U23 world champion Neff, laughing. "Last year I suffered a puncture in Tesserete. I hope this will not happen again."
Last Sunday, Kathrin Stirnemann was third in Montichiari (Italy), behind Neff and World Cup champion Tanja Zakelj. Stirnemann managed to win the Tesserete race in 2012; she enjoys this circuit.
It will also be exciting to see the performance of two-time world champion Irina Kalentieva. The Russian rider has just joined team RusVelo, where she takes care of talented young Russian women. The 36-year-old Kalentieva celebrated her eighth World Cup victory in September 2013, thus highligthing her status as a contender for the win.
German racer Adelheid Morath should also be taken into account because she had some World Cup top 10 results in 2013. Nathalie Schneitter from Lommiswil suffered a knee injury in February and will try to push on with her comeback in Tesserete. Her first try was the race in Montichiari where she finished 11th, and now the rider from team Colnago hopes to make headway in Ticino.
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