The Multivan Merida Biking Team has just begun the new 2011 mountain bike racing season in Spain and will continue with more racing this weekend in Italy. With World Champion José Antonio Hermida, European champion Ralph Näf and former World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå as the most successful mountain bike racer of all times, the team is set to defend its status as the strongest in mountain bike racing.
"Taking the lead both in the World Cup's overall standings and in the world ranking is essential to us," said team manager Andreas Rottler as he laid out the goals for his squad just ahead of the team's presentation on the island of Mallorca last month.
Spaniard Hermida will start the season with the goal of doing everything he can to defend his title in September and to finish on World Cup podiums regularly. Some of his stiffest competition might come from within his own team as Swiss rider Ralph Näf has also set his sights on the same major races with the extra motivation of having the Worlds in his home country. Unlike Hermida, Näf wants to shine in long-distance races, too, with the goal of reclaiming the marathon world championship title that he won in 2006.
Dahle Flesjå also has ambitions for another world championship title. All signs are set for her to get back to her own best this season. She is also aiming for a podium spot at the cross country Worlds.
German Multivan-Merida rider Jochen Käss is full of self-confidence for the season ahead. Originally a specialist for marathon races, he has repeatedly left his mark in cross country races recently and now wants to compete for one of the few starting spots that Germany is entitled to for London's Olympic games 2012. Käss will still continue competing in marathon races even though the Multivan Merida Biking Team has two riders in its line-up who are designated specialists for this kind of races: Andreas Kugler and Hannes Genze form one of the world's strongest two-men teams for the big stage races and have significantly contributed to the rise of the team to the top of the marathon World ranking.
At its presentation, the team unveiled its new 29-inch wheeled bikes, called the "Big Nine", to the public for the first time. All the racers will use the bikes along with the more traditional 26-inch wheeled rigs. The 29ers are expected to be especially useful at endurance events like the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race.
As one of the most professional teams in the sport, the racers will be supported by four mechanics and four physiotherapists on the team's payroll during the entire season. At times, the team will be representing in three different races simultaneously.
On Sunday, Hermida and Näf participated in their first race, the Andalucia Bike Race in Spain, however, the duo withdrew on stage 3 due to Näf's back problems.
The entire team is expected to participate in the Maremma Cup in Tuscany, Italy, this weekend on March 6. After that, over 40 more races follow throughout the season.
Multivan Merida for 2011
Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå