Fresh off his 2014 European Marathon Championships success in Ireland, defending mountain bike marathon world champion Christoph Sauser of Switzerland has his eye firmly on clinching a fourth global title of his career when he tackles the 2014 UCI Marathon World Championships in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday, June 29.
The Specialized Racing rider, who has strong South African ties, has enjoyed a string of victories in Europe in recent months and is eager to make this count when "the big one" rolls into town in KwaZulu-Natal's capital next weekend.
"Worlds are definitely my focus for the year and I really want to defend my title in Pietermaritzburg!" said Sauser. "There is nothing bigger or better than the moment you are on the podium and the jersey is presented to you!"
"I have dreamt about winning the title again this year, and it happens then it would be very special! Firstly because it will almost be a home race for me and, secondly, if I can win again this year it would be the first time I've ever successfully defended a world title!" he said.
The 38-year-old marathon legend will use the last few days in his native Switzerland before he jets off to sunny South Africa as a final touch-up opportunity but believes he is already in outstanding physical and mental condition.
"Physically I am in the shape of my life!" said Sauser. "I will still look to get into even a bit better shape but I won't go crazy with my training from now up until Worlds though, I'll take this weekend off from racing and just train in Switzerland."
"Quality rather than quantity is the key and I'll just look to work on my last few weaknesses instead.
"It is a mental game too though and I've built up a lot of confidence lately having won pretty much all of my races in the last two months!" he said.
A large portion of the Swiss star's preparations have involved dealing with the significant pressure on the defending champion's shoulders.
"I definitely feel the tension and pressure at this stage, especially being defending champ. Basically, being at the top already means I can only lose," he said. "I see the pressure as a very good thing for me though, it motivates me!"
"Since school already I've needed pressure to perform at my best so the pressure doesn't bother me, I enjoy it."
Pietermaritzburg has a long history of hosting international cycling events and the city's leg of UCI MTB World Cup has helped Sauser develop a good understanding of Cascades MTB Park, the start and finish venue for this year's marathon world champs.
"In a sense, heading back to Cascades is a homecoming for me and I know the start/finish area and the sections in and around Cascades MTB Park very well," said Sauser.
"As far as the rest of the course goes I only know it from having looked at the maps and course descriptions on the event website so when I arrive on the Tuesday before Worlds I'm really looking forward to checking out the rest course!
"Most importantly is that I am in good shape and ready in my head though!" he said.