The Trans Zollernalb mountain bike stage race will kick off its fourth edition with a world-class line up. Swiss riders Urs Huber and Esther Süss and Czech rider Kristian Hynek are some of the top favorites that will take part in the race on September 20-22, 2013.
Lot of marathon big guns are expected to show up for the three-day stage race, but there are some names that stand out from the crowd.
First is Huber. The man who was fifth at the world marathon championships has shown strong form in recent weeks. Last Sunday, he won the Swiss Open Bike race in Granvillard; a race he used as a preparation for the Trans Zollernalb.
"Both races have similar (fast) stages, and I wanted to use it to prepare for Trans Zollernalb. I think I'm in good shape," said Huber.
Hynek, who was at the first version of the race, also belongs to the top bunch of marathon specialists. Hynek was third and fourth at the two most recent marathon Worlds. He was also third at this year's European marathon championships in Singen, a race with a similar profile.
Moritz Milatz was expected to compete, but cancelled his appearance after a disappointing World Cup in Hafjell, Norway last weekend. There are still a number of ambitious German challengers for the two strong foreign favorites.
One of them is Huber's teammate on Team Bulls, Tim Boehme, who was fourth in the European marathon championships. Both will be supported by veteran endurance MTB racer Stefan Sahm.
As for team tactics, the Centurion-Vaude team is likely to be the main antagonist. German marathon champion Markus Kaufmann and Jochen Käss, who won the TransAlp together with Kaufmann, should ride a strong race along with Hannes Genze, the inaugural winner of the Trans Zollernalb.
"You have to be very attentive to what is happening. Strong teammates should definitely help each other in this race," said Kaufmann, who believes that his teammates are in great shape.
Robert Mennen (Topeak -Ergon) also believes he has a good chance. The German runner-up at marathon nationals had a strong second half of the season, winning the Trans Schwarzwald ahead of Kaufmann and Käss.
"My shape seems very good; I am very optimistic and looking forward to the race," said Mennen, who won this race in 2011 to everyone's surprise.
"The Trans Zollernalb is on a very special date in the calendar. There is no profile like this, and it only features three stages. It should be carefully ridden, and you have to make sure you don't waste any time even in the intermediate sprints. Urs Huber is in great shape, but I hope that my two years of experience here will help me win the race. It will be exciting. I'm not going to give up easily," said Mennen.
Brandau to challenge Süss in women's race
That same attitude also applies for Elisabeth Brandau in the women's race. The reigning German marathon champion suffered from a cold last weekend at the cross country World Cup finals in Norway. But the fact that she managed to climb up into 15th position after two laps shows that her form is still very good.
"I didn't even push it too hard, but after two laps, I got a backache, and I had no chance," said Brandau. She is working on fully recovering before the start on Friday.
Brandau is expected to be the biggest challenger for favorite Esther Süss. A year ago, Süss was defeated by Sabine Spitz by just a few seconds. In Hafjell, luck wasn't on her side and she finished 12th. The Swiss rider suffered a rib injury and fell badly on her head. Still, the 39-year-old knows how to motivate herself. After she was narrowly beaten in 2012, the only thing in her mind right now is victory.
Silke Schmidt and Anja Gradl are also expected to end up on the podium. Schmidt took part in only a couple of races this year, but she was very good. Among other achievements, she won the bronze medal at the German cross country nationals. Gradl finished third in the Trans-Schwarzwald, so she is also expected to ride well.
The 2012 edition of the race was won by Christoph Sauser and Sabine Spitz.