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Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå and her son Bjornar after she won the 2011 European championships.
Multivan Merida team reflects on 2011 season
Multivan Merida's José Hermida and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå both had a successful and consistent 2011 season. Along with their teammates, Ralph Näf, Rudi van Houts, Jochen Käß, Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler, they helped the squad back into the world's top-three ranked teams.
For much of the season, Hermida wore the rainbow stripes of defending world champion until he finished fourth at the 2011 Worlds. He was also fourth overall in the World Cup. For the past nine years, the Spaniard has been ranked in the top five at the end of the season. For 2012, Hermida is shifting his focus to the London Olympic Games. Having already won a silver medal at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, Hermida is eyeing the gold in London.
Dahle Flesjå, who was voted by readers as Cyclingnews' female mountain biker of the year, returned to the world's elite ranks with strong performances in 2011. She surprised many by winning the European cross country championships in August ahead of the then-reigning world champion Maja Wloszczowska. Shortly after, she returned to World Cup podiums, finishing in third and fourth, respectively. And her sixth-place finish at Champéry's world championships was a further confirmation of her return among the best racers. In the World Cup standings, Dahle Flesjå ended up in seventh, and in the UCI's world ranking, she climbed even one position further up in the standings. The upcoming Olympic season may well see the Norwegian reap the fruits of her patient, post-baby build-up and a return to her once seemingly unbeatable form.
Van Houts was another of the team's athletes who managed to find his way back among the ranks of the world's elite. Finishing in fifth at the European championships, winning the Dutch national championships and being voted as cyclist of the year in the Netherlands are the performances that stand out in his season. Van Houts is hoping for a breakthrough season in 2012.
Näf, unfortunately, had a poor season as he struggled with health issues and had no choice but to skip the world championships and end his season early. This decision was made to give him extra time to recover completely before the Olympic season. Provided that Näf can compete without back pain again, the Swiss rider is a medal contender at major races. A Näf in his best form could help the Multivan Merida team back to the top of the rankings.
Käß, Genze and Kugler wore the team's colors in long distance races. In varying combinations, these riders formed duos competing for the win at the world's most prestigious stage races. For example, Genze teamed up with Käß to finish in second at South Africa's Cape Epic race. Later on, Genze continued with Kugler as his partner to win the Trans Schwarzwald stage race's overall and a stage at the Transalp. Käß also finished fifth at the marathon world championships and Genze was fourth at the European marathon championships.
After some bad luck that resulted in several fourth and fifth places, team manager Andreas Rottler was more optimistic about 2012. "For next season, we're going to turn the tables for sure. Apart from going for medals at the Olympic Games and the world championships, we also want to reclaim the top spot as a team within the World Cup. And we are in an excellent starting position to achieve all this thanks to our strong line-up and the wealth of our experience."
Given the various nationalities of its riders, Multivan Merida has a realistic chance of sending five of its riders to start at the Olympic Games in August.