Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida) rode to his first World Cup podium finish in two years at the Nove Mesto World Cup in the Czech Republic on Sunday. Näf is one of Switzerland's many fast cross country riders, and he is among those competing for a spot on the Swiss team headed to the 2012 London Olympic Games. Sunday's performance boosted his chances of making the three-man Swiss team.
He put in a strong ride, moving up from a spot on the start grid in the fourth row. He moved up quickly toward the front of the race and then spent most of the rest of it in a select five-man group that also included eventual winner Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower), Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), Burry Stander (Specialized) and Marco Fontana (Cannondale).
Throughout much of the race, Näf appeared to be hanging on to the lead group for dear life, sometimes getting gapped, often on the technical sections, and then catching back up until the group finally disintegrated on the second-to-last lap.
"Although I had planned it differently, I lacked a bit of self-confidence to take the lead in technical sections," saisd Näf. "Due to the accordion effect, I lost some terrain and had to give chase repeatedly, which cost me some power."
"I missed that power when the fastest three pulled away. The fact that I still scored a top five finish and thus stepped on the podium gives me an enormous mental boost. This success comes at the right time, right in the middle of the Olympic selection."
Näf struggled through the 2011 season with back problems, even ending his season early to focus on healing.
His teammate Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå almost scored another World Cup podium for Multivan Merida, but she had some bad luck. Dahle Flesjå was riding in third position in the elite women's race for awhile during the elite womens' race.
"Unfortunately I damaged a pedal when I had a slight crash. After that, one foot was loose which cost me precious time on the descents. And as I lost less than 45 seconds to third place, a podium finish would have been well within reach today."
She ended up in eighth place.
Both riders will be back in action in round 4 of the World Cup this weekend in La Bresse, France. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for coverage all weekend.