By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
Friday was a good day for the Swiss at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Italy. The nation had two riders on the U23 podium, three in the top four or four in the top nine, depending how you count.
Pre-race favorite Nino Schurter captured the U23 world title. He had previously won it in 2006 in Rotorua, New Zealand, but had to settle for second in 2007 in Fort William, Scotland. 2008 was his last chance before graduating to the elite ranks.
Second place Burry Stander (South Africa) had his work cut out for him amid a sea of Swiss racers. After using up all his energy to drop the third and fourth placed Swiss racers Matthias Flückiger and Fabian Giger, there was nothing left in the tank to defeat Schurter.
Given that Stander and many of the young Swiss are already making a name for themselves on the elite World Cup circuit, Cyclingnews asked Stander about the pace of the U23 World Championship race compared to the 'average' World Cup weekend. "Today [Friday], it was harder," said Stander. "I had a goal to get rid of Matthias. If it had been a World Cup, we'd have let the older guys set the pace, so for me anyway, it was very hard."
"I don't know," shrugged Giger when Cyclingnews inquired what made his team so strong thereby forcing Stander to such a blistering pace. "We have a good team. We push each other."
Switzerland conceded victory to France on Tuesday in the team relay, but the team was clearly on track for the U23 race. "We are not surprised," said Swiss team manager Alex Suter when asked about the performance of his U23 racers. "We expected at least one medal. We know we have a large and strong elite squad, but we also start with the small kids - not racing, but teaching them concentration."
Suter didn't mean the collective "we" of the Swiss federation, but named the nation's culture and its supportive cycling attitudes. "Parents come out with the kids and with the teams. You see kids grow up in the [cycling] scene."
The Swiss are favourites to come home with still more cross country medals. Christoph Sauser, Florian Vogel and Petra Henzi are among those tipped to do well in the elite men's and women's races to be held Sunday.
See full coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and stay tuned for Cyclingnews' first ever live coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Sunday.