Current under 23 cross country mountain bike world champion Gerhard Kerschbaumer (TX Active-Bianchi Team) recently spoke of his path to winning the rainbow jersey. He noted that a strong body, mind and solid team support helped him achieve the Worlds victory.
2013 wasn't one of those seasons where everything was perfect from the start. Kerschbaumer took some time to find his groove. "I wasn't in my best shape in the early season, but I was strong in training, I had the same feelings that I do now, but I just could not convert it to results in races," he said. "My team's trust helped me, I was strong from the 12th spot at World Cup's round in Val di Sole onward."
Kerchbaumer then claimed the Italian national title and got fifth at the Vallnord World Cup, a result he said was important because "I realized I could compete with the best élite bikers, when I'm at my best. That really boosted my self-confidence."
When the big day came in August at Worlds, Kerschbaumer was nervous, but ready.
"Every race is full of hitches, and the Worlds are more and more difficult than the others, but I really liked the course and in Pietermaritzburg, where I had won in 2011, and finished as runner-up last year," he said.
"I had planned to attack on the longest climb, but I managed to escape in the first kilometers. I kept my countryman Braidot's pace for two laps, than he crashed and I kept my pace until the last lap. When it started raining, I started to manage my lead."
It wasn't just about feeling good, but also about having his head straight.
"You need a strong mind to win, in every case. If you haven't a strong mind, your legs go slow. Furthermore, you need to be serene: you risk missing your goal, if it becomes an obsession. Of course, you need also a great team to top the biggest races."
"Three months ago, when the best results were yet to come, the Team Manager Felice Gimondi told me, 'Don't worry, we know what you are worth'. In such moments, a rider need this kind of boost in confidence."
During the season, Kerschbaumer mostly rode a bike with 29-inch wheels, but recently, he has also been testing a bike with 27.5-inch wheels. In 2014, he and his entire team will have the option to ride both platforms all season.
Looking ahead, Kerschbaumer has his sights set on the Olympic Games, but he said he is not obsessing about them in the short term. "Many things could change in three years. That's why I am looking to focus on what it will happen today or next year. Surely, the Olympics are 'the' event for every athlete. When I was a child, I was dreaming of a medal at the Games. Today the dream is still alive."