After his most consistent season yet, Manuel Fumic of the Cannondale Factory Racing team is hoping to make the leap from World Cup podium finisher to winner in 2013.
"I want to have a top spot at one of the World Cups," said German cross country national champion Fumic to Cyclingnews at a recent team training camp in Finale Ligure, Italy.
"My top favorite [candidate race] for doing so is the opening World Cup in Albstadt [Germany]," said Fumic. "I want to make it my stage and perform well. I want to show people in Germany that there is someone from Germany who can race fast. It's just 60km away from where I live, and many friends and family will come."
Fumic is anticipating a huge turnout for the World Cup opener in Albstadt, making it the perfect place for a breakthrough victory. "We have had the German national series there - just a small race - but there were 10,000 people who came to watch. They are expecting 20,000-25,000 people at the World Cup. They have a great course there and good people running it."
But it's not just about victory for Fumic. He's proud of the consistency he showed throughout all of 2012 and hopes to do as well again this year.
"It's important for me to have a consistent year again, and I want to work on my world ranking position. At the moment I'm sixth or seventh, but I want to be in the top five for this year. It means a lot of racing and collecting points and being consistent all year."
"I'm super happy with last year," he said. "I had a lot of podium spots at the World Cup and I won the nationals. I was more or less consistent from the beginning to the end, but I never had the top spot on the podium. I was second, third, fourth..."
Improvements for this year
When asked how he will make the step up, Fumic alluded to both physical and psychological preparations. "I'm working to improve the details. It's some things about my training. Some details are on the bike, and some details are in my mind."
Fumic is back to working with a former coach, who helped him to win the U23 world championships in his younger days. But the relationship is not about training programmes - it's more about general moral support to help him through the exceptionally tough and good times.
"It's not like a trainer who writes me plans, it's more like I call him when I'm feeling weak or strong. Not in between when I'm feeling good - that's not when I'm making mistakes.
"When you're super strong, sometimes you feel like you can go faster in training and I need someone to tell me not to."
"I call him and have a good chat with him and we meet two or three times per month. It's good to have someone in the background who I know I can call. I feel comfortable in my situation."
He elaborated on how important it would be for him to have the confidence and commit to seizing the opportunity to win when it is presented.
"If you go for victory and you race in the front with those guys, when it comes to the last two laps or so, that's the important part," he said. "If you have a strong mind, you can feel that. You can go with the top five guys and in the last lap, it's like your mind is playing out a movie and you know when and where to attack. If you're not strong in your mind, you might finish second, third or fourth. I'm working to have a stronger mind.
Fumic gave a specific example from last year's opening World Cup. "Last year, Pietermaritzburg was a strong race. I was as strong as Burry [Stander] and Nino [Schurter], but it was a situation where I made the decision to be sure to end up third instead of going for the top spot."
"Nino and Burry had attacked, and I was going with them, but I said to myself it was a little too much and I should be satisfied with third. Afterward, I knew it was the wrong decision because they were not far away, but then I could never close the gap."
"You don't get many chances like that. In the future, if I'm in the situation to go for the victory like that, I'm really going to go for it. I'm not going to be satisifed with third any more. It's better to get fifth than to not to try to win one."
In addition to his consistency, Fumic had other successes in 2012. He was seventh at the Olympic Games, at the end of a long season.
Besides winning a World Cup, Fumic has another objective. "My second goal is the Worlds in Pietermaritzburg. That's one of my favorite courses, and I've always performed well there."
The German spent 2.5 months training in South Africa this winter, for its good weather and so that he could familiarize himself with the trails, climate and area for the upcoming Cape Epic. It will be his first time doing the eight-day mountain bike stage race, and he will team up with Marco Fontana.
"I need to build up my season from the beginning. You need a good opener to know you can perform well. That's why I put so much energy in the moment - before the season really kicks off."
"I never spent so much time in South Africa before. I was collecting miles and building my base - riding every day three to five hours. I really want to show I can perform well this year, and I've put in a lot of effort this winter."
Fumic and Fontana are planning a relaxed approach to the Cape Epic. They will use the event as base training for the World Cups and go for a stage win or two.
"It's going to be a super nice experience because we've never done it so far. I did some stage races, but they were only two or three days long - nothing special. Cape Epic is completely different and it will not be easy for us," said FUmic.
"It's a change to our training because we now train for short and intense and Cape Epic is completely opposite. For us, it will be a good experience. We hope to come out of Cape Epic with good training and good form. It's all about training and working on ourselves."
"Together riding with Marco will be fun. It's not our goal to kill ourselves there, but we'll see. We know our strengths and weaknesses but we don't want to ruin our whole season. Maybe after we have a look this year, we can focus on it more next year?"
While in South Africa, Fumic checked out some of the Cape Epic course. "I looked at some stages and was able to ride some of them. The race will be super rough. It was helpful to see what's coming. Otherwise, I would have picked the wrong bike and wrong tires."