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Florian Vogel (Scott Swisspower) in the bunch early on
The next round of the BMC Racing Cup in Balgach will serve as the Swiss Cross Country National Championships this weekend. For the Swiss Olympic athletes, it is the last appearance on home soil before heading to London.
Route creator Lionel Fischer and Willi Nuesch built a completely new and challenging cross country course for the championships. "The track builders have planned well and implemented best practices. Particularly the technically challenging forested mountain descents will offer good spectating."
Local racing hero Thomas Litscher described his impressions. "The climbs are hard and on the descents, there is no time for rest."
The likely Swiss champion will be either Nino Schurter or Florian Vogel (both Scott Swisspower) based on the results so far this season. Vogel is the defending champion. However, both will have to watch out for Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida), who like Schurter and Vogel, is coming straight off altitude training in Engadine.
"I need the world ranking points to start farther up at the Olympics," said Näf, the bronze medallist in this year's European championships. He considers the race in Balgach as good preparation. "If the Swiss championship is within reach, I'll take it gladly."
Näf has been studying the course, but the long, steep climb is not necessarily tailored to him. However, being cheered on by his wife and three children will help spur him on come race day.
Defending women's champion Nathalie Schneitter will be back; however, it will only be her second race after injury. She does not think it will be easy to defend her jersey.
"It will be enough for me to medal," she said. "I've yet to show any results, but it could be a good race."
She will likely face challenges from Swizterland's two female Olympic representatives: Esther Süss, who was Swiss champion in 2010, and Katrin Leumann, who was Swiss champion in 2009.
The U23 men's winner will like come from the trio of Reto Indergand, Matthias Stirnemann and Mirco Widmer. For the U23 women, Jolanda Neff, who has already won two World Cups, is the top favorite.
In the junior race, last year's suprise winner Domenic Zumstein will battle his teammate Andri Frischknecht and local Anea Vetsch.
The first-ever Swiss eliminator championship will be held on Saturday evening. The elites, U23s and juniors race the cross country on Sunday.