In the days leading up to the elite men's cross country race at the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Nino Schurter announced that he was renewing his contract with his Scott Swisspower team.
"I have raced with Scott-Swisspower since 2003, and I feel great in the team and in all its surroundings," Schurter said.
Schurter celebrated his most successful season in 2012. He won 11 out of 15 races, became world champion, won an Olympic silver medal and the overall World Cup. In 2013, he is ruling the World Cup again with a comfortable lead. He also just won the overall classification of the prestigious BMC Cup last weekend and is feeling good for Saturday`s world championship race in South Africa.
"The technical course suits me really well, plus I have good memories as I won last year's World Cup kickoff here," said Schurter.
With Pietermaritzburg on the short term agenda and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as a long term focus, Schurter has a clear vision going forward. "My big goal is Rio 2016, but first I will try to defend my world champion's jersey on Saturday in South Africa."
Schurter is quietly confident ahead of the big day. Speaking at a Scott Sports World Championships welcome dinner at Jowett's Cycles, Pietermaritzburg, Schurter confirmed that he is in peak form and that he is looking forward to racing on one of his favourite tracks.
"I have had very good preparation for the world championships. I am expecting a hard race but knowing that I am well prepared gives me a good level of confidence. I have had good results on this track at the three World Cups that I have raced here and it suits my style," said the 27-year-old Swiss rider, who is known for his skill on technical sections and his power on the steep ascents.
Schurter won the opening round of the 2012 UCI World Cup on the Pietermaritzburg course, beating the late Burry Stander, who was killed by a motorist while training in January this year. For Schurter, Stander's absence is significant.
"We were rivals since under 23 level and we had many good battles, especially here in Pietermaritzburg. It is really very sad that Burry is not here to race the world championships in his home country," said Schurter before assessing who his major rivals are likely to be on Saturday.
"(Julien) Absalon is going well and is always motivated for a big race like the world championships. (Jose) Hermida has won here at a World Cup in 2009 and likes this course. He is in good form. I also think (Marco) Fontana will be a rider to watch here. And of course (Jaroslav) Kulhavy can never be ruled out. And you can always expect at least one surprise rider on the day too," said Schurter.
Kulhavy, the Czech who narrowly beat Schurter to the Olympic gold medal in London last year has been relatively unimpressive so far this year, but his ability to focus on one goal race and succeed there is not to be underestimated. Italy's Fontana (third at London) and Spain's Hermida (fourth at London and the 2010 World Champion) as well as France's four-time World Champion, Absalon, have all shown good form leading up to the world championships.
Schurter's Scott Swisspower teammate, Florian Vogel is also a podium contender on Saturday. After a poor start to the year, which included a crash at the Cape Epic and illness ahead of the first two rounds of the UCI World Cup, the 31-year-old Swiss is confident of his form.
"I'm feeling very good. I have good health and my fitness is the best it has been all year. I like the course here and am looking forward to a good result," said Vogel, who has twice secured bronze (2007 and 2009) and once claimed silver (2008) at the cross country world championships.
Schurter's World Cup win in Pietermaritzburg last year saw him become the first rider to win a major international event on a 27.5-inch wheel bike.
The elite men's cross country race will take place at 3:00 pm on Saturday. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.