Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) celebrated a sweet victory over Burry Stander (Specialized) and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale) in the elite men's cross country race at the South African World Cup, the first round of the 2012 season.
"It's awesome to start the season like this," said Schurter. "It builds confidence towards my main goal of the season, the Olympic Games."
Schurter made his ambitions clear right from the start. He set a pace that only a few could follow. Even last year's World Cup champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) struggled, two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) never saw the front and former world champion Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) eventually dropped off the pace of the leaders.
Only local favorite Stander and Fumic were strong enough to stay with Schurter for most of the race. They worked well together until Fumic fell off the pace. That left Schurter and Stander to repeat the battle they fought last weekend at the same venue for the World Cup test event.
Schurter employed the same strategy, trying to put Stander on the defensive on the descents. It was the strategy that helped Schurter beat Absalon here a year ago. In a difficult, downhill rock garden section with a bit more than one lap to go, Schurter dropped Stander and never looked back.
Schurter's teammate Florian Vogel was less fortunate. The Swiss rider suffered a flat tire far from the pits and was seen running with his bike - without a rear wheel - to the pit where he decided to abandon the race.
"This is hard to accept. Mechanicals happen once in a while, but this one came about in the worst moment," said Vogel, who was hoping for a good finish to secure a spot on the Swiss Olympic team. " I hope I can deliver the answer to this dilemma in Belgium in a month from now." The next World Cup is in Houffalize, Belgium.
In the interim, Schurter will spend a week in Tuscany testing equipment before heading to race the opening round of the BMC Swiss Cup in Buchs.