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From left to right: Germany's Manuel Fumic (third), Switzerland's Nino Schurter (first) and José Hermida Ramos (second) enjoy the moment after finishing on the podium in the elite men's cross country
Winning against tougher rivals is more rewarding for Swiss champion
Nino Schurter proved himself worthy of keeping the rainbow-striped jersey of the cross country world champion for another year when he won the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Saturday afternoon.
"It's an awesome feeling. I'm used to it now, but it's great to wear the stripes," Schurter told Cyclingnews. He won his second elite world title last year after his first in 2009.
"It's the same feeling to win again, but it was more difficult this year. Last year was quite special with Worlds after the Olympics. Everyone was focused on the Olympics, and I was able to prepare well for Worlds and have a great race again after the Olympics. From a performance standpoint, it was a better race."
However, for Schurter, his wins this year have been just as rewarding as he's often faced tight battles with his rivals. He cited both his victories at the Nove Mesto World Cup and the Val di Sole World Cup as examples of tough contests that lasted the entirety of each race.
"It's nice if you can win a close race, battling to the end. That makes it an awesome feeling," said the 27-year-old, who recently renewed his contract with the Scott-Swisspower MTB Team.
"It's definitely much more stressful with so many rivals, but then it's nicer to win. If you just win one race after another, it's not as nice anymore. If you have to do your best in training and prepare as good as possible and then you can win just by a few seconds, it's the greatest feeling."
After winning the 2012 cross country Worlds, Schurter seemed to suffer none of the curse of the rainbow jersey that plagues some world champions.
"It's always difficult if you're the world champion - you have a lot of things to do and everyone is watching during the races and even in the off-season. You are busier when you are the world champion. But I'm proud to wear the stripes."
Schurter said he took a measured approach to his 2013 season, taking his time to prepare throughout the spring in the build-up to his ultimately successful world championship campaign.
He was especially pleased to win in South Africa after having been coming to the country each year for training, near Stellenbosch, since 2006.
"South Africa is an awesome country and full of great people," he said. "There was not more pressure for this race than for all the other races. I knew I was in great shape and this track suits me really well. I had quite a lot of fun in this race after a good week of training. I was in a good mood before this race."
He has one more major race of the season, the final World Cup round in Hafjell, Norway in mid-September.