2012 Olympic Games cross country mountain biking gold medallist Jaroslav Kulhavy is in a race against time to ensure he is ready for the season opening leg of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg on April 11-13. He recently made a welcome return to action after being side-lined for more than six weeks by a fractured knee-cap he sustained in early February.
Competing in the UCI category 1 Kamptal Klassik this past weekend in Langenlois, Austria, The Specialized Racing star finished in ninth, just two minutes and 28 seconds behind winner Jan Skarnitzl. Understandably a little off his usual pace, compounded by a puncture on the opening lap, Kulhavy is now looking forward to the real test next weekend's World Cup season opener presents.
"I was expecting (my return) to be worse," said the 29-year-old. "I was unable to train properly for six weeks, so I think (my result in Austria) is a good result."
"I did not want to push too hard first time back but I hope that now my performances will improve considerably. The World Cup in (South) Africa will show where (my fitness) really is though!"
"There is still a lot of work to do," he said.
The Czech ace sustained the injury in a freak accident on Sunday, February 2 when he slipped on an ice patch whilst walking to his car and landed hard on his knee, fracturing the kneecap of his right leg in the process.
Four weeks of immobilization of his knee followed by two weeks of rehabilitation meant Kulhavy was forced to delay the start of his 2014 season with many, including some of his medical team, initially fearing he would be forced out of the first few rounds of the World Cup.
"It's infuriating!" Kulhavy said shortly after the accident. "I had a great off-season without any problems, but now I will have to wait a few difficult weeks."
"It's obviously unfortunate," added Kulhavy's coach Viktor Zapletal. "Especially because of the condition he was in after a great December and January training camp in Mallorca."
However, Kulhavy's recent return is a positive indication that the Specialized Racing rider is likely to be on the start line come the elite men's cross country showdown in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday, April 12, where he will take on event course designer Nick Floros' recently revamped Cascades MTB Park.
"The changes we have made to the cross country course will suit the bigger, stronger riders because there are a number of short, hard climbs rather than the gradual ones of the previous course," Floros said recently. "After riding the new course, I felt that it would probably suit a rider like Kulhavy best."
Despite the refreshed track likely to lend itself to Kulhavy's physique and racing style, the question on everybody's minds at this stage, should Kulhavy be ready for the fast-approaching Pietermaritzburg assignment, is just how competitive will the former world champion and 2013 UCI MTB World Cup third place finisher be and will he be able to improve on his best result in Pietermaritzburg - his third place finish two years ago - or not.