Mountain bike favorites Julien Absalon (BMC) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) will do battle at round 2 of the BMC Racing Cup in the Ticino region of Switzerland this weekend.
In the men's race, many are expecting an exciting duel between the two giants of mountain biking as both riders prepare for the upcoming World Cup season. Two-time Olympic champion Absalon will encounter reigning world champion Schurter in Lugano/Tesserete.
With only five weeks to go before this year's World Cup opener in Albstadt, Germany, the race in Lugano is set to be the first serious "rehearsal" for both Absalon and Schurter. Both are considered to be favorites for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup also. Being a 25-time World Cup winner, a four-time World Champion and a two-time Olympic champion, Frenchman Absalon has already celebrated three victories this season.
Meanwhile, Schurter, who is the most recent overall World Cup winner and the winner of the silver medal at the Olympic Games in London, is fresh off winning round 1 of the BMC Cup last weekend in Schaan.
Both riders have already been successful on Lugano's six-kilometer race course in the past. Absalon won the race in 2010, and Schurter was the winner in 2011 when Absalon was hampered early in the race due to a technical problem.
This year, there are some competitors who would like to spoil the giants' tête-à-tête. European Champion Moritz Milatz, who won the race in 2012, and his BMC teammate Lukas Flückiger are poised to intervene. After a disappointing twelth place in Schaan, Flückiger will try to regain lost ground in the BMC Racing Cup. "I'm looking forward to this race and I'll do my best."
His brother Mathias Flückiger (Stöckli Pro Team) and Martin Fanger (BMC Racing Team), who was third in Schaan, are also good bets for a spot on the podium. In addition, Swiss Cyclo-cross Champion Julien Taramarcaz (BMC) will start his 2013 mountain bike campaign in Lugano.
In the women's race Swiss rider Esther Süss (Wheeler-IXS), winner of the first round in Schaan, will cross swords with her fellow Swiss racer Katrin Leumann (Ghost Factory Racing).
Süss is hoping for a second consecutive victory. Her toughest competitors, however, two Swiss ladies named Katrin and Kathrin, are both very skilled riders who can cope well with challenging courses like the one in Lugano.
Leumann, third in Schaan last weekend, is well-known for her outstanding riding skills, as well as Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike), who in 2012 managed to celebrate her first race victory in the elite category in Lugano.
However, the Swiss trio would be well advised to pay some attention to Great Britain's young talent Annie Last (Trek Factory Racing) and to the French rider Fanny Bourdon. Bourdon is the winner of the UCI Marathon World Series in Laissagais that took place last weekend.
The BMC Racing Cup starts on Saturday with the amateur races. Elite racers will compete on Sunday. Some 750 mountain bikers are expected to participate in the event.