Jose Hermida and Rudi Van Houts (Multivan Merida) will be building some early season form while participating in the six-day Andalucia Bike Race in southern Spain starting on Sunday. The pair hopes to defend their victory of last year.
The racers will compete in six stages in Cordoba and Jaén. In the Cordoba region, the climbs are not that long. However, the fourth and fifth stages may be much more decisive since the mountains of the Jaén region provide long climbs and demanding descents.
"This region is really mountainous, and as some stages have already been ridden at this point of the race, stages 4, 5 and 6 are likely to decide the overall standings," Hermida predicted.
"Of course, I want to repeat that win with Rudi. But there is some serious competition. With Carlos Coloma and Sergio Mantecon (Trek Wildwolf), two fast riders from the cross country World Cup are competing as well, and there are a lot of strong marathon specialists, too."
Both Hermida and Van Houts are using the Spanish race as preparation for the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, where they will also team up.
"This race is perfect to find one's racing rhythm before South Africa's Cape Epic stage race. Last year the World Cup started very early, but this year it's a different story," said Van Houts.
Multivan Merida will be represented by a second team in Andalucia: Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink. It will be the first time both young riders race in the colors of the Multivan Merida Team.
"I have been working hard on my endurance throughout the winter, so I feel ready even for those long stages that are waiting in the second half of this race," said Cink. "I want to go for a podium position in the overall classification, but that's not going to be easy as we are facing experienced specialists for long-distance races such as Alban Lakata."
Litscher thinks the race will help his form by providing good training. "On one or two stages, I would like to take a shot at a good result with Ondrej Cink as well. But the most important thing for me is to get used to the new equipment during the next week. I will also work closely with the team mechanics to get the bikes dialed-in exactly to my liking. And I'm not worried about six days of continuous racing: Last year I rode the four-day TransGermany race, and it was a blast."