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Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Multivan Merida) being presented with a bouquet to celebrate her 40th birthday by Merida International Vice President William Yeng
Slimmed down team features both young and established talent
The Multivan Merida Biking Team's 2013 presentation wasn’t all about the numbers, but there were some significant ones to acknowledge. As Merida enter their 41st year, one of their longest serving riders and a team captain turned 40 years old. Ever the professional, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja took to the stage at the head of proceedings, only to be surprised by a huge bouquet of roses presented by Merida International's Senior Vice President William Yeng.
For 2013, the team are focussing solely on cross country, and have released marathon specialists Ralph Naf, Jochen Kass, Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler, instead bringing in a couple of young guns in the shape of 2011 and 2012 under 23 world champions Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink.
2012 was a year in which four Merida riders lined up at the London Olympic Games, and only just missed out on a medal with Jose Hermida's fourth in the men's race. Dahle Flesja's race fell apart early on due to a crash and a mechanical, but she bounced back by winning silver at the world championships to add to her European crown. In winning two World Cup races, she equalled Julie Furtado's all time record of 28 victories, and with her continuing form, has every chance of taking the record outright. Silver in the marathon world championships and second overall in the World Cup shows the Norwegian has lost none of her power.
Dahle Flesja believes that her 16 years of experience counts for a lot still and can make the difference between her and the younger generation. She feels like she's coming back in to her best form following the birth of her son, and that should be a warning considering 2013's World Cup Final and 2014's world championships will be held in Norway.
Finishing in the top five of the World Cup overall standings for 12 consecutive years, Jose Hermida remains a very competitive legend of the sport. Hermida still has great passion for the sport, and at 34, still has fun and great ambition. He enjoys being pushed by new riders, and believes that some of the missed wins or podiums in 2012 were simply bad luck, whereas in previous years he might have been more fortunate. Merida's other team captain still wants to win, and hopes the new 650B bike he's testing will give him that little extra in the next season.
Dutch mountain biker of the year once again, Rudi Van Houts shared victory in the 2012 Andalucia Bike Race with Hermida, was sixth in the European Championships and 12th at the Worlds. A regular top 15 finisher in World Cup races, Van Houts wants to step up to top eight if possible for Merida and the Dutch national team. With a good start, he's been enjoying eliminator races, and finishes quickly on some courses, so is looking forward to competing for the win more often. Despite Merida pulling back from marathon racing, Hermida and Van Houts will will be racing the ABSA Cape Epic and Andalucia Bike Race together and aiming for the win.
Since his under 23 world championship win in 2011, Thomas Litscher endured a trying 2012. Health issues kept him from training early in the year, and when he regained his fitness he missed out on Olympic selection, then broke a bone in his hand before the Worlds, so he finished his season early. Still only 23, and back to full fitness, the Swiss rider is aiming at the top 10 and hopefully the World Cup podium in the near future, with the elite world title as a long term goal. He also loves sprinting, and the eliminator championship is a big aim this year.
The youngest rider at the London Olympic cross country race was Czech Ondrej Cink, who at 21 finished in an impressive 14th place, which he followed up with the world and European under 23 titles and fifth in the under 23 World Cup overall. In such a historically successful team, Cink is the only current world champion, but doesn't feel any pressure because of it. Preferring long, steep climbs and racing on full-suspension only, his sporting idol is unusually Usain Bolt. Explaining his reasoning, he said that while he'd like to have the success of Hermida in time, he wants to be as fast as Bolt. Before now he hasn't had the chance to race many eliminator races as he was always racing cross country the following day, but now he’s looking forward to pitting his natural speed against the sprint events too.
With a slimmed down and refocused five-rider team for 2013, Multivan Merida look to have a good combination of youth and experience with a range of specialities that should yield results as they race world wide between February and September.