World Cup champion Tanja Zakelj will lead the nine-rider Unior Tools team for 2014 after she re-signed with the squad for its fifth season. New for this year, Unior Tools is adding an enduro focus to its existing cross country and gravity racing efforts.
Zakelj had some good results prior to joining the team one year ago, including 10th at the London Olympic Games and under 23 and junior cross country world championship titles, but she surprised everyone by making the podium at almost every cross country World Cup race in 2013. She claimed victories in Nove Mesto and Val di Sole and also won the European cross country title in Bern.
"I have higher self-confidence after last season, but again I have to focus on each of the events and do my best," said Zakelj.
"My main target is, of course, on the World Cup and both world and European Championships. I'm working according to my program, with great trust in my coach and the team, this year also with new training including acrobatics. There are also some other changes in my training, but I will keep them secret for now."
Suemasa switches disciplines and joins Unior Tools
Multiple-time Asian champion Mio Suemasa has joined the Unior Tools team for 2014. However, after racing in trials, downhill and four cross, Suemasa is opening a new chapter in her life: competing in cross country races. She will still defend her downhill national title, but after 10 years of gravity racing, she's looking forward to the new challenges of endurance racing.
"The tracks changed a lot in past decade. The jumps are getting bigger and bigger, so it's getting hard to keep up," said Suemesa. "Last year, I did my first cross country race in Japan. I went there just for training, but it was fun and a new challenge for me, so I wanted to do more."
Suemesa will race in Asia and at selected UCI World Cup events.
The team will also be represented in eliminator races by Slovenian Kevin Berginc.
Ruaridh and Ziga aim for top 20 in downhill circuit
Ziga Pandur finished among the top 30 elite downhill racing men last season and logged the best ever result for Slovenia. Ruaridh Cunningham joined him for the last part of the season and got some good results in the World Cup and won the iXS EDC race in Chatel. Both riders return for 2014.
"My goals for 2014 are to finish top 20 overall in the World Cup and top five in the British Downhill Series as well as making Great Britain's worlds team," said Cunningham. "Last year I missed most of the season due to injury but was happy with my riding when I did return. I've been working hard this off-season and I'll be looking to start the season healthy and improve on the form I showed at the end of 2013."
Pandur is also aiming for a top 20 spot and for wins in the European Cup and other international events.
Unior's downhill team also includes Jure Zabjek and Nal Otonicar.
New enduro squad
For 2014, Unior Tools is adding a focus on enduro racing. Former Slovenian downhill champion Nejc Rutar heads the squad, which will be an official Enduro World Series team.
"Enduro is much different from downhill, so I had to learn a lot last year," said Rutar. "I saw how big the scene is and how many great riders are on the events. Now I know what I need to do to get good international result, and with that I hope more people will take on this discipline in Slovenia."
He'll be joined by Anze Zabjek, and the team will compete in the Enduro World Series.