Many of the European favorites for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, coming up next week in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, will battle one last time before racing for the rainbow stripes. Among them are Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) and Julien Absalon (BMC), who are both racing the BMC Cup finals in Basel-Muttenz, Switzerland this weekend. In the women's race, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida), Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz - Haibike) and Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-KMC) will compete although Swiss favorite Jolanda Neff will be absent.
The Muttenz round will give racers a chance for one last race-like effort prior to Worlds.
Schurter said that Saturday's race results "will not really play an important role", but of course, he would still love to have a victory to take with him to South Africa, where he is hoping to defend his world championship title.
Schurter has tended to beat Absalon this season; however, Absalon won the most recent face-off at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup in Canada two weeks ago.
"My training data is good, I am quite optimistic," said Schurter.
Absalon is also Schurter's closest rival in the overall ranking of the BMC Racing Cup, but Schurter only needs a top-25 result to secure the overall victory.
Absalon was somewhat restrained about this weekend's race. "Muttenz will be good for my preparation, because it is a race that does not destroy you completely. The final result is of secondary importance. Some riders show up with a poker face prior to the Worlds. But what really counts will happen seven days later," said Absalon, who recently enjoyed his 26th World Cup victory in Canada. That was the second time this season that he had beaten Schurter.
Absalon's BMC teammate Lukas Flueckiger skipped the Canada World Cup and instead trained at altitude for Worlds in Engadine instead.
"Except for two or three workouts when I had some problems with my Achilles tendon, everything was great. I think I am in good shape," said Flueckiger. "If I do well in Muttenz, I should be fine at the Worlds also."
Finishing fourth in Mont-Sainte-Anne two weeks ago, Ralph Naef (BMC) celebrated a great comeback to the top international ranks. He, too, prefers to use a race to tune-up for Worlds. "I need a race to get ready for an important race," said Naef.
Racing on his 35th birthday, Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) will also race, along with Gerhard Kerschbaumer (TX Active Bianchi) and Maxime Marotte and Stephane Tempier (both BH-SR Suntour-KMC).
Women: Three Olympic champions competing
Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa is expected to be in top shape in Muttenz. Last Saturday in Méribel, the Norwegian woman beat Julie Bresset. The French rider, however, was still handicapped by jet lag after the World Cup in Canada, which Dahle Flesjaa did not attend although she did also win the BMC Racing Cup in Davos just a few weeks ago.
Sabine Spitz, who recently celebrated a World Cup win in Andorra, will be racing not far from her home in Murg-Niederhof, Germany. Last week, she was suffering from an infection, but it's too early to say if that has hampered her form.
Katrin Leumann will race as the local favorite. The Swiss champion analyzed her bad experience at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup and trusts that the issues she had with her sacroiliac joint will be remedied by tomorrow.
"My preparations for the world championships are finished. All there is left to do now is some fine-tuning with high-quality workouts," said Leumann. One of these workouts will be the race near her home in Riehen.
"Since this is my home course, I want to be well prepaired for the race. In most cases, tactics play a major role in this race, and last year I missed the boat. I hope that will never happen again," said the 31-year-old.
Prior to the finals, Esther Suess (300 points) leads in the overall women's standings. Whereas German rider Adelheid Morath, currently second (242), will probably not start due to a shoulder injury, third placed Kathrin Stirnemann (230) is also ahead of Leumann (220).
"On this course, Kathrin is certainly able to deliver a strong performance," predicted Leumann.