BMC's Lukas Flückiger will challenge world champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) at the Swiss cross country national championships in Lenzerheide this weekend. The women's race will most likely offer a duel between Esther Süss and Katrin Leumann. There are many top contenders in the eliminator sprint format.
As far as the elite men's category is concerned, the podium of the Swiss championships will perhaps offer the same winners that will later this year be present on the award ceremony photo of the world championships. Or the other way around: Last year's World medalists might just as well enter the podium in Lenzerheide on Sunday.
There is no doubt whatsoever that current world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) is the top favorite in the men's race. Schurter has been the world's dominant rider during the first half of the season.
"The national championships is not one of the big goals of the season, but of course I would like to do a good race so close to my home. I’m looking forward to seeing many familiar faces along the course," said Schurter, the 27-year-old Olympic silver medalist, who lives in Chur, less than 30 minutes from Lenzerheide.
In Schurter's opinion, Lukas Flückiger will be his main rival for the Swiss title. Last September, the man from Ochlenberg stood next to Schurter on the world championships podium in second position, and he can also look back on a successful, even the best spring season of his career. Due to bad luck in the initial phase of the European championships race in Bern, he finished in fourth position, just barely missing a medal.
Looking back, Flückiger sees the European championships race as an encouraging experience. "In Bern, we have seen that it is possible to beat Nino. He is the favorite, but if I do not lose too much time during the first 20 minutes, then I'll take my chances. For this purpose, of course, I need to have a great day," said Flückiger, who is positive about his chances to carry off his first championship jersey in the elite class. In Bern, his French BMC teammate Julien Absalon showed how to beat Schurter, and his example is Flückiger's guiding light.
Lukas Flückiger considers his brother Mathias to be a potential rival who could make life more difficult even for him on the 4.2-kilometre course with its two steep climbs. The world bronze medalist from Leimiswil was sick on the weekend of the European Championships, but had shown a week earlier at the World Cup in Val di Sole in fourth place that he has world-class form. Stöckli team rider Mathias Flückiger was third in Balgach in 2012, behind Schurter und Schurter's teammate Florian Vogel (Rapperswil-Jona).
For Vogel, the current season has not been quite so good, but he has a chance to win a medal along with Fabian Giger, Thomas Litscher and Martin Fanger - all of them top ten riders on World Cup level.
The women's fight for the title will most likely result in a duel between Katrin Leumann and Esther Süss. Leumann is still handicapped with swollen vocal cords, with no clarifying diagnosis available. Nevertheless Leumann enjoys a successful season. "I would really like to take the jersey back home one more time," said Leumann.
"At least in the beginning, Kathrin Stirnemann will compete with us, whereas Nathalie Schneitter is currently a bit of a grab bag: We'll have to see how things are turning out for her," said Leumann, who was national champion in 2004, 2008 and 2009.
Just like the 31-year-old Leumann, Esther Süss also enters her fifth race weekend in a row. Therefore Süss, Bronze medalist at the marathonwWorld championships, is relying on recovery prior to the national championships. "Definitely, winning the title is my goal," said Süss who won the championship race in Gränichen in 2010.
"The Swiss championships are very important for me, especially because I had to go without the world marathon title this year. I'm curious to see how I will recover after the four and a half hour race at the marathon Worlds."
Stirnemann as well as Schneitter are keen on getting good results in Lenzerheide, because these results will be taken into account for the world championships nominations.
In the men's U23-category, Mathias Stirnemann and Reto Indergand are said to be the favorites. Andri Frischknecht has been dubbed an underdog.
Jolanda Neff is the defending champion and the favorite in the U23 women's race, Andrea Waldis is her strongest rival.
Alessandra Keller (Stans), who placed third at the European championships, seems to have the best chances in the female juniors' competition. In the junior men's category, the race seems to be quite open. Recently, Nicolas Fischer (Solothurn) has moved into the foreground.
The championship weekend will start off with the eliminator sprint format presented on Friday. Litscher and Neff are the defending champions. The sprint course offers a considerable elevation gain of 50 meters, which may account for a number of surprises. And there are many ambitious competitors.
Apart from Multivan-Merida's powerful rider Thomas Litscher, it is none other than eliminator world champion Ralph Naef who seems to be regaining momentum after surgical operations in spring. Since the beginning of this season Näf rides for team BMC.
"It would be nice to win the sprint title again, but in Switzerland there are very many fast sprinters," said Litscher, who was somewhat restrained after having suffered a major disappointment at the European championships.
However, the Swiss line-up offers quite some more hot candidates: among others EC bronze medalist Sepp Freiburghaus, Stefan Peter, Marcel Wildhaber and last year's third placed Nicola Rohrbach.
World championships sprint silver medalist Neff and Stirnemann (Graenichen), currently second in the overall World Cup ranking, are the names most often mentioned in the women's category.
"On Friday, for me there is only one goal and that is the jersey," said Stirnemann, who was second in both the European championships and in every World Cup sprint so far this year.
Besides Neff, European championships bronze medalist Ramona Forchini from Wattwil, Linda Indergand from Silenen and Andrea Waldis are serious competitors for Stirnemann.