The 25th edition of Münsingen Spring Classic will kick off the domestic mountain bike season in Germany as the first round of the 2011 International MTB-Bundesliga. Reigning world champion José Antonio Hermida and Olympic champion Sabine Spitz top the start list, which also includes the Cannondale and Ghost teams.
The event is drawing more than 1300 participants, with 700 of them doing a marathon on Saturday. A sprint distance race will give the elite racers a chance to warm up their legs on Saturday evening before the traditional cross country race on Sunday.
The racing in Münsingen comes six days before the UCI World Cup opens in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It's a final test for some of Europe's top cross country racers.
The Multivan Merida Biking Team is fielding a strong team, including Hermida and three-time Münsingen winner Ralph Näf, Cannondale Factory Racing is sending Marco Fontana, Martin Gujan and local hero Manuel Fumic.
Fumic, who's missed the race for the past three years, is aiming for a podium finish. "It's a real classic race and there are not a lot of races with that long of a history." He's never previously made the top three at the event.
Rabobank-Giant is bringing Henk-Jaap Moorlag and Emil Lindgren while Felt-Ötztal-X-Bionic's roster includes Thomas Litscher and Karl Markt.
Another racer to watch is Jochen Käss, who was ranked second at the Cape Epic and is in good form. "I feel good and I will try to be in the front group. Doesn't matter if I'm exploding on the last lap," he said.
Last year's women's race winner Lisi Osl (Ghost) is coming back to Münsingen with two race victories already in her legs this year - both in the Swiss Racer Bikes Cup. She'll face Spitz as well as Spitz's new Central Haibike teammate Tereza Hurikova.
"In Tesserete (at the Swiss Racer Bikes Cup), I had some problems with my diaphragm, but I think I can manage that until Sunday," said Olympic Champion Spitz. "I'm okay with my preparation and my plan is working."
Nathalie Schneitter, a World Cup winner in Champéry in 2010, is fresh off the Cape Epic and shifting into higher speed cross country mode. European champion Katrin Leumann is another possible podium contender.
Those favorites will have to keep an eye out for Blaza Klemencic (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic), Annika Langvad (Easton Rockets) and U23 world champion Alexandra Engen (Rothaus Poison-Bikes) as well as Elisabeth Brandau (Central Haibike).
Saturday's eliminator race, the Centurion Sprint, will count toward the overall Bundesliga ranking. It will start with a time trial qualification, followed by heats of six racers. The fastest two continue to advance to each next round.
The Spring Classic in Münsingen is the oldest race in Germany. It started in 1987. For a lot of years, Münsingen had a reputation for bad weather, often with rain or snow. That's why someone called the race "the Paris-Roubaix of mountain biking".
The 1300 pre-registered racers sets an attendance record. The old record was 1139 racers in 2010. Organizers attribute the bump up in participation to the Uralan Frühjahrsmarathon, a 45-kilometer loop which is open to amateurs and licenced riders as well on Saturday. Three-time Cape Epic winner Stefan Sahm (Bulls) will be among those racing.
This year's MTB-Bundesliga International consists of four events, each with a short format race and a traditional cross country. The remaining rounds will be on May 14-15 in Saalhausen (C1), September 10-11 in Heubach (HC) and September 24-25 in Bad Salzdetfurth (C1).