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World Cup overall leader Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox)
Aussie on form for four cross redemption
Fresh from winning his third straight four cross World Cup title, Toowoomba's Jared Graves has his sights firmly set on winning his second rainbow jersey at next week's UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champéry, Switzerland.
After capturing the world title in Canberra in 2009, things didn't go quite according to plan at last year's worlds in Mont Saint Anne, when he was pipped on the finish line by Czech rider Tomas Slavik in the final.
Forced to settle for silver, the 29-year-old is more determined than ever to reclaim that top step on the podium.
"My expectations are 100 per cent about winning the jersey back," Graves said from the Australian team's training base in Basel.
"I'm riding better than ever and am feeling confident. But anything can happen in four cross, so I'm just crossing my fingers for a good night's racing.
"My preparation has been perfect so far. Since I wrapped up the overall World Cup title, the focus has been 100 per cent on world champs. All the hard training is done and I'm just taking it easy now to come in fresh and ready.
"The Champéry course is kind of a mix of downhill and BMX, which is perfect for me, and it's a bit steeper than usual which will favour me as well.
"There is a super short start, so lane choice will be very important. So qualifying first will be the first goal, then making sure I've practiced all the possible lines and then just put it all together in racing."
Graves will arrive in Champéry as the gold medal favourite, but the Australian champion says he will be motivated by the added expectation.
"Yeah I'm used to it [the pressure] now. If I don't win people always wonder what happened. I know I usually step up in the big races and ride my best."
"I've always ridden really well at world champs. It's the races that are less important that I struggle with, so the pressure is a good thing for me."
Graves and reigning world champion Slavik have built up a fierce rivalry over the years, and the showdown in Champéry is once again expected to be red hot.
"We get along really well. He [Slavik] has been riding great and I see him as the guy to beat as I have for the most part of this season," continued Graves.
"Honestly, it helps me to have a guy like him going fast, because without a challenge to keep you on your toes, it's easy to lose focus, just like what happened at the final World Cup round in Val di Sole [Italy] last week. Nothing was on the line for me, and from qualifying onwards I was kind of off with the fairies a bit."
Along with Graves and Slavik, Swiss local hopes Roger Rinderknecht and David Graf, and 2010 bronze medallist Michal Prokop (Czech Republic) are also expected to be in the medal mix.
Australia will be represented by a three-man team in the men's elite four cross. Joining Graves on the start line will be dual Australian Four Cross Series champion Richard Levinson (QLD), who placed 30th at last year's world titles, and Graeme Mudd (NSW) who ended the international season ranked 25th overall in the 2011 World Cup standings.
"I think Graeme has been riding really well this year, and as he races some downhill as well he will go fast on the track in Champéry. He has just had a really bad run of luck so far this year," Graves said.
"And Richo [Levinson] is a determined racer, so anything can happen with him, he never gives up."
Australia has a 36-strong team competing at the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Champéry, Switzerland from 31 August to 4 September.