Manuel Fumic is among the elite mountain bike racers looking to compete and medal at the London Olympic Games in August. The veteran German rider, a member of the Cannondale Factory Racing team, is hoping to excel at what will be his third Olympic Games.
The German cycling federation has pre-qualified Fumic for its Olympic team. To finalize his selection, he has to finish in the top 15 in one of the first four World Cups this spring.
"I'm looking forward to the World Cup in Pietermartizburg, where I hope to finish that qualification and then I can just focus on the Olympics," said Fumic to Cyclingnews at a recent Cannondale Factory Racing team camp. The Pietermaritzburg World Cup will happen in South Africa on March 17-18.
"I'd like to race a solid World Cup season and do the Olympics in London, then the world championships at the end of the year in Austria."
Fumic knows the competition will be fast and furious in South Africa in the early season. Nations will be trying to maximize how many athletes they can qualify, and individuals will all be racing to secure their spots on their respective Olympic teams.
Should Fumic earn his spot, he will benefit from the experience he gained at the past two Olympic Games. "In Athens (in 2004), I was one of the youngest competitors. Beijing (in 2008) was my second Games, and I was really close to getting a medal. I was riding with (Nino) Schurter and (Christoph) Sauser, and we were fighting for a bronze medal. With 3km to go, I had a puncture and I think I finished 11th."
The 29-year-old is less intimidated by the Olympic experience than in the past. "I feel more comfortable this time around. I'm not nervous. The first time you get there, the Olympics are unbelievable. There are other sports and other athletes all around you. Now I'm more relaxed and I know I'll be in good shape."
"I've already seen the course and it suits me. What I need now is to compete well in the first World Cups so that I feel more comfortable and will know that I can beat the good guys in the front. I hope to go there and have a good day and be relaxed and get a medal."
Racing this year's cross country World Cups and eliminator World Cups, Fumic also hopes to step up his performances and maybe even win one.
"I've gotten a few World Cup (cross country) podiums. I've had second, third, fourth and fifth, but I've never won a World Cup. I want to win one. You have four or five guys who can win and then you have another 15 or 20 who can ride to top 10 or top eight or top six. It's hard to find your way to the podium."
"When I look back at the last World Cup season, I was always in front riding with the good guys and I was always close to the podium, but I always had bad luck in the last laps. I had punctures and crashes. It was good that I could ride with the front guys, and I saw my form was getting better and better. This winter, I did a lot of power training and I feel in better shape than in the years before. I'm really looking forward to racing with the guys again and this year, I want to not crash or get flats and make the podium."
Fumic is especially excited about the new cross country eliminator discipline which will be run at three World Cups and will make its Olympic debut. His team and teammates were among those pushing for the incorporation of the eliminator into the international circuit. "For the first time, we have a Worlds for the eliminator and that's one of my goals because I'm strong in that kind of a discipline. I want to see how it goes at the World Cup. I'd like to get a medal at Worlds."
Fumic is joined on the World Cup circuit by his Cannondale Factory teammates Marco Fontana, Martin Gujan and Jeremiah Bishop. "We are working together, but when it comes to the final, everyone is on the limit and suffering, so at the end you can't really work together. But along the way, if there is a gap, we can work together to close it. It's good to have a teammate out there to ride with."
The Olympic year is likely to influence the World Cup season as many riders will be preoccupied with trying to qualify to race in London. "The season will be full with World Cups, Worlds and national races. After May, it will be interesting because some will be focused on the Olympics, but those that do not qualify may do some other races, too. Until May, everything will be stressful as we all try to get good results. After May, I will focus on the Olympics," he said, optimistically.