After Nino Schurter's brief stint as a road racer, the cross country mountain bike world champion returns to the dirt for the BMC Racing Cup in Solothurn on Saturday. There Schurter will lock horns again with his persistent rival Julien Absalon. On the women's side, Kathrin Stirnemann is targeting the leader's jersey, but will face a tough challenge from recent World Cup winner Eva Lechner.
ProTour newcomer Schurter enjoyed a lot of attention during the Tour de Romandie although he was not one of the main protagonists. He will also be the focus of interest at the Bike Days in Solothurn. On Saturday, the Scott-Odlo rider will face his long-time rival from France. BMC's Absalon, travels to Solothurn after two recent World Cup wins - one in South Africa, the other one in Australia - boosting his self-confidence, whereas Schurter's body may still be compensating for five days of elite road racing.
"There is recovery on my schedule this week," said Schurter. "Certainly, what I just did was not really the best thing to do regarding the next mountain bike races, but I think it will pay off in the mid-term. We did some vivacious pedaling at the Tour de Romandie. Let's just see how things go in Solothurn."
Schurter has won the Solothurn race three times in a row. Last year, he defeated Absalon, and two years ago he beat Germany's Moritz Milatz (BMC), who currently leads in the overall standings of the BMC Racing Cup after two rounds.
German champion Milatz, winner of the round in Buchs, said, "I feel absolutely fine and I am ready to defend my leader's jersey."
Milatz's BMC teammate Ralph Näf is coming off a win at the HC-category race in Haiming (Austria) last weekend. Another BMC athlete, Lukas Flückiger finished second in the same race.
Lukas' brother Mathias Flückiger (Stoeckli Pro Team), who was second at the World Cup in Cairns, Australia, and Schurter's teammate Florian Vogel are two others to watch.
Lechner the red hot women's favorite
In the women's cross country race, a change in the standings of the series is likely, especially since overall leader Jolanda Neff is currently racing on the road in the Women's Tour in Great Britain. Kathrin Stirnemann needs to take at least fourth place in Solothurn to jump to the top of the standings.
"Solothurn is Switzerland's greatest cycling event, and I am looking forward to it. I hope I will be able to grab the leader's jersey," said Stirnemann (Haibike). She received a timely morale boost when she gained the best Word Cup result of her career - she was the top Swiss woman at the World Cup in Australia, finishing sixth. Stirnemann was second last year behind Esther Suess.
"I'm curious about Esther. With the notable exception of the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg , we have not had another opportunity to compete with each other again this year," said Stirnemann.
At the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, two weeks after the Cape Epic, Suess did not have the momentum to repeat last year's success at the world championships in Pietermaritzburg, where she had won the bronze medal. Therefore she skipped the World Cup race in Australia.
The red-hot favourite for the women's race on Saturday, however, is team Colnago's Eva Lechner, who recently celebrated her third career World Cup win in Cairns. She had also led the BMC Cup race in Buchs in March, but bitter cold temperatures almost froze her on her bike.
Racing action will kick off for the weekend in Solothurn on Friday with the eliminator in Schanzengraben.
Lechner, also a good sprinter, plans to prove her skills on Friday evening. Stirnemann, who won the eliminator in 2013 and also won last year's World Cup race in Andorra, is her likely rival.
"The sprint race is a good opportunity to present myself. I will try to defend my title," said Stirnemann. One of their main contenders, however, will be Schurter's female teammate Jenny Rissveds from Sweden. She is the reigning European eliminator champion.
In the men's eliminator, Swiss champion Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Odlo) deserves the top position in the list of entries. Wildhaber was victorious in last year's race in Solothurn. His chief rivals are Sepp Freiburghaus (Thoemus), Naef, Vogel, and Lukas Flueckiger.