By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
Christoph Sauser has his sights set on a gold medal in the UCI Mountain Bike Worlds cross country race on Sunday in Val di Sole, Italy, after finishing second twice before in 2005 and 2006.
"After the Olympics, the worlds are the most important race to me," said the 32 year-old Swiss racer from Sigriswil. "I feel in very good shape, but everything has to come together on race day. It's always a big challenge to train, to travel and to race."
Sauser's primary challenge will come from reigning World Champion Julien Absalon. The Frenchman has won an impressive four consecutive titles from 2004 to 2007. Absalon sat out the last major round of racing at the World Cup in Fort William, Scotland, but Sauser isn't discounting him.
"It would be naive for me to think that Absalon's not in top shape," said Sauser. When asked if he thought Absalon could win yet again, he considered it possible. "He's already won four, so maybe there's less pressure on him? But look at Lance Armstrong – at the time you thought he won six, he can't win seven in a row, but he did."
The two rivals have taken turns being faster than each other all spring so far. "In Houffalize, I had technical problems on the first lap and in Offenburg, Absalon was faster," said the racer nicknamed "Susi." "In Andorra, I was stronger [Sauser won that World Cup round. - ed]."
Sauser is excited about Sunday's race after he pre-rode the course. "I really like the course," he said smiling. "The rain made it perfect, and technical. There are a lot of lines to choose from. There is not just one."
Sunday's race is also important because it will finalise the selection of the Swiss Olympic team. Sauser's place is almost guaranteed, given his performances during the last year and given that Switzerland will send three men to Beijing.
The elite men will likely complete seven laps of the 6.2 km course on race day, but officials may alter the length up until the day before the race, depending on how course conditions evolve the rest of the week.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for complete coverage, including live coverage of Sunday's cross country events.