Several top mountain bikers are looking forward to the 13th annual Marlene Sudtirol Sunshine Race in Nalles, Italy on Sunday, April 14.
In the women's event, 2008 Olympic champion Sabine Spitz will race head-to-head with one of the current Sunshine Race victory record holders, Eva Lechner.
It will be Spitz's first time at the race while Lechner is setting her sights on a fourth Sunshine Race victory. She currently shares the record of three individual Sunshine Race victories with Norwegian Olympic champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa.
Other top women to watch are Elisabeth Osl, Blaza Klemencic, Nathalie Schneitter and Tanja Zakelj.
On the men's side, bronze Olympic medalist Marco Aurelio Fontana, two-time Sunshine Race winner Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez and current junior and team relay world champion Gerhard Kerschbaumer are expected on the start line. Olympian Alexander Gehbauer from Austria, Poland's Marke Konwa and Italy's Tony Longo will also be racing. Local resident Alex Medvediev from Russia will add pressure.
Fontana, who placed fifth overall in the Cape Epic stage race, is aiming to repeat his 2012 victory, whereas Kerschbaumer is going for his first win in Nalles on Sunday.
The 5km course will be raced seven times by the men and five times by the women for totals of 36.6km and 26.6km, respectively, including the 1.6km start loop. Each lap includes a technical uphill, rock gardens, steep bits and a downhill.
Italian junior national champion Beltain Schmid is a favorite to win the U23 men's category while Judith Pollinger and Julia Innerhofer will likely excel in the U23 women's race.
"The Marlene South Tyrol Sunshine Race is one of the best attended mountain bike races in Italy," said Manager Florian Pallweber, who noted that the race will be part of the UEC European Mountain Bike Cup for Juniors and U23 riders for the first time.
"The inclusion of the race in that calendar is a great honor for us," said Pallweber. "Furthermore, this is the eighth time that the race is part of the Internazionali d'Italia race series and the second time that it is included in the Austrian mountain bike league."
Six hundred total participants are expected from 20 nations.
An eliminator cross country plus amateur cross country races will happen on Saturday while the elite riders will compete in the cross country on Sunday.