The 2013 International MTB-Bundesliga series will come to end this weekend in Germany. In the men's final race, Manuel Fumic will make his comeback and will challenge three-time Saalhausen winner, Moritz Milatz, as well as defending champion Emil Lindgren. Alexandra Engen is the woman to beat in the elite women's category, and she is also the top favorite for the sprint eliminator race on Saturday.
Fumic is hoping for an exciting comeback after being on the sidelines due to injury. The 31-year-old German champion will ride his first race seven weeks after he had broken his broken collarbone in training before the World Cup in Albstadt.
"I feel good in training, but feeling good in training and winning races are two different things," said Fumic.
The Cannondale pro should be able to keep up at least in the first part of the race. The fact that he will be competing with Milatz among others, makes things even more interesting. Next week at the German National Championships, the BMC athlete will be the main challenger for Fumic.
"I'm pleased that Mani is back," said Milatz.
Milatz is aiming for his fourth win in Saalhausen this weekend. "That was not really in my plan before the season, but when the opportunity is there, it would be nice to win the race," said the 2012 European champion.
He is also looking forward to the German National Championships in Bad Salzdetfurth. "Racing to improve his form" is his motto for the weekend. He is playing with the idea of taking part in the eliminator. "I always have problems in the first lap. So, perhaps a start in the sprint isn't a bad idea," said Milatz.
German U23 champion Markus Schulte-Lünzum is the hometown favorite for the host state North Rhine-Westphalia. He is also the current U23 World Cup leader, but he will be racing with the elites this weekend. He has a small mathematical chance of winning in the final standings, but he definitely has a shot on the podium.
"I had a week's rest after the European Championships. The first practice day on Tuesday went great. I'm looking forward to competing next to Manuel and Moritz and see where I stand," said Schulte-Lünzum.
Last year's winner Emil Lindgren is currently 13th in the world ranking. He surely will make things difficult for the others. Belgian Kevin van Hoovels is expected in the top fight, too. There are Mexican and a Colombian riders on the start list as well, however, little is known about them.
Engen aims to defend her title
The top three riders in the Bundesliga series will miss the women's race due to injuries. Sabine Spitz is still recovering, while Adelheid Morath and Anja Gradl have both suffered collarbone fractures.
Therefore, last year's winner Alexandra Engen from Sweden seems like the favorite. The current world ranked number two will likely be the winner of the overall Bundesliga for the second time, because Morath - with equal points - is not able to start.
Freiburg native Hanna Klein, who won in Saalhausen four years ago and U23 European Championship bronze medalist Helen Grobert are also podium candidates. Elisabeth Brandau has recovered from torn ligament and is slowly getting back into shape. However, she is a bit skeptical about her competitiveness.
Thrilling racing is also expected from the U23 category. Jens Schuermans has a comfortable lead, but three guys could close the gap in Saturday's eliminator. Martin Gluth, Julian Schelb Christian Pfäffle are all good sprinters. They are all members of the same team, Lexware-Rothaus, and will challenge Schuermans.
Stiebjahn could defend eliminator title
In the eliminator standings, the rider from Titisee-Neustadt has the chance to defend his title from last year. German eliminator national champion Simon Gegenheimer, leader of the current standings, has not registered yet. If he does not, Stiebjahn has to finish ninth to pass Gegenheimer and keep Heiko Gutmann behind him.
The winner in the women's sprint standings is not yet clear, but eliminator world champion Engen holds all the aces. The World Cup third in Albstadt, Nadine Rieder, and the German champion Veronica Brüchle are probably her biggest rivals.