Once again, two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon (BMC Racing Team) will lock horns with world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) in the lead-up to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. This weekend, the pair will battle in the third round of the BMC Cup, at the Bike Days event in Solothurn, Switzerland. In the women's race, local Nathalie Schneitter be the crowd favorite as she battles favorite Esther Süss.
Solothurn will host the third showdown of 2013 so far between Absalon and Schurter. Swiss rider Schurter won the first duel at the BMC Cup in Lugano/Tesserete and was also successful in a Bundesliga round in Heubach, Germany, where Frenchman Absalon was hampered by mechanical problems.
Going into the race, Absalon was downplaying the seriousness of the weekend's contest. "Solothurn is a fast race, which is not so easy to predict. I intend to use this race as a training session," said Absalon. "At this stage in the preparation for the World Cup, the appropriate training stimuli are most important." But the 25-time World Cup winner also makes clear that he does not intend to go on a leisurely ride. "When I take part in a race, I put the hammer down."
His rival Schurter said, "I am confident, and I will be trying to win again." The Swiss star said his preparations for round 3 of the BMC Cup are nowhere near the quality of what he does for a World Cup race. However, he understands the importance of the weekend. "This will be the last opportunity to test your physical fitness before the World Cup," he said.
Absalon and Schurter will be challenged by 2012 European champion Moritz Milatz (BMC Racing Team) and Lukas Flückiger, who recently proved at the Sea Otter Classic in California that he is in fine shape, just like his brother Mathias Flückiger (Stöckli Pro Team), who has also been gaining form. Schurter's teammate Florian Vogel is another man to watch along with former world champion Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), who has been one of the world's best mountain bikers for the past 12 years.
"With the exception of the European Championships in Bern, Solothurn and the Swiss Championships are probably the most important races in Switzerland this year," said another Swiss rider, Christoph Sauser (Specialized Racing), who will take the cross country start line this weekend despite switching to marathon racing in recent years.
Esther Süss is the top rider in the women's competition. She won the first two rounds of the BMC Racing Cup in Schaan and in Tesserete. Last weekend, she was third in a high-level race event in Oetztal after a sensational comeback. "Had the race gone just one more lap ...," she sighed. She had managed to do best time on the two final laps.
Most of Süss' competitors in Solothurn will be Swiss compatriots. Kathrin Leumann (Ghost Factory Racing) started into the year at a very high level. Kathrin Stirnemann has also been able to demonstrate her high level of fitness in some spring races. As far as motivation is concerned, Schneitter will once again get big support in her home race from her very many fans.
Adelheid Morath (Sabine Spitz-Haibike) may play the role of most conspicuous challenger and is a candidate for the women's win. The German rider was second in Schaan and has managed to make the podium in all six races she has done so far in 2013.
Male and female pros will also have the chance to compete in an eliminator race on Friday evening.