North eastern Mallorca played host to the launch of the 2012 Multivan Merida Biking Team this weekend. An ever expanding annual event, a new location comfortably catered to over 300 assorted dealers, press and the wider Merida family. The snow which blighted the Tour of Mallorca was still visible in the hills, and a bitter northerly wind made the promotional hooded jacket an inspired choice, but at least the sun was shining.
The Taiwanese manufacturer’s team is based in Germany, and manages to combine innovation, efficiency and a friendly atmosphere to great effect. With a seven-rider line up unchanged from the team that finished 2011 third in the UCI World Cup cross country rankings, one of this year’s aims is to reclaim top spot. But in Olympic year, many teams and riders are looking towards London in August, and Merida is no different.
In Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja the team has a former Olympic and eight-time world champion, who after a maternity break in 2009 has again scaled the podium with wins at the European and national championships and sixth in the Worlds. At 38, she shows no sign of slowing down, and has another Olympic medal firmly in her sights. Two more World Cup event wins would make Gunn-Rita the most successful world cup rider ever.
The 2010 world champion and team joker José Antonio Hermida enjoyed his custody of the rainbow bands last season. Showing strongly all year, his consistency brought fourth in the World Cup and world championships, and fifth in the UCI rankings, with his only victory being the Spanish title. After silver in the Athens Olympic games, Hermida is focussing this season on London, potentially his fourth Olympic Games. Although he hasn’t yet ridden the Hadleigh Farm course, there will be an opportunity in April after the Houffalize World Cup race, and will help to decide which of the three bikes at his disposal is most suited to the challenge. Having seen Julian Absalon’s crushing victory in last August’s test event, Hermida believes that he can still be a contender this year, and rates the Czech Republic’s current world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy as one of their biggest threats.
Ralph Naef is hoping to banish memories of a disappointing 2011, when repeated back pains ruined the majority of his season. Wins at the Cape Epic and Andalusia Bike Race were as good as it got, but with the problem sorted, he hopes to represent Switzerland at the Olympic Games, and return to his winning ways.
Long distance specialist Hannes Genze is one of Merida’s three-man marathon and stage racing team. Showing a remarkable jump up the marathon rankings of 158 places in 2011 to 17th, Genze still feels he can improve further.
Jochen Kass is another strong all rounder, who has become equally adept at both cross country and marathon racing. Maintaining his place in the top 10 of the UCI Marathon world rankings despite few victories in 2011 shows Kass’s consistency.
The final member of Merida’s long distance team is Swiss rider Andreas Kugler, who teams up with his German compatriots for certain stage races, and is hoping for more luck in 2012 after a 2011 season blighted by misfortune in critical races.
Dutch 2011 mountain biker of the year Rudi Van Houts is aiming squarely at the Olympics in 2012, tailoring his race schedule accordingly. With improving results in World Cup races and the Dutch championship last year, Van Houts appears to be approaching his prime as a cross country racer.
If everything falls in to place at its respective Olympic selection races, Multivan Merida could possibly boast up to five of their seven riders on the start line in London, which shows the strength in depth the possesses. The long term view taken by the team and team manager Andreas Rottler has created a stable atmosphere, within which its talented riders have flourished, and whose continued input has helped develop their range of hardtail and full suspension race proven bikes.
Displayed alongside the trusty but rapid O.Nine 26” and Big.Nine 29” wheeled hardtails, and the Ninety-Nine 26” full suspension bikes was the new Big.Ninety-Nine 29” full suspension machine, which offers a new dimension for the cross country racer and endurance rider. Full details of this prototype bike will be announced were announced later in the weekend, and we’ll bring you a report including a test ride, and even a 2013 bike via our sister site Bikeradar.com.