Hermida back on the World Cup podium

Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) put a tough first part of the season behind him this weekend when he returned to the Mountain Bike World Cup podium at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada.

"I'm happy. After a hard season and struggling the first part with physical problems, it's a good feeling to be back, especially in a race like this fighting with Nino [Schurter]," said Hermida. "Right now, he's the best guy in mountain biking, so sprinting with him is not so easy. I tried my best in the end with him."

The race came down to a two-up sprint between Schurter and Hermida, something not many were expecting on a very technical course, especially after rain began near the end of the race.

Mont-Sainte-Anne is a special place for Hermida, who won his first and only cross country world championship there in 2010. "I have great memories of Mont-Sainte-Anne - both the days and the nights," he said referring to both the racing and the famous parties thrown each year at the venue.

This weekend's race was reminiscent of the 2010 Worlds. With two laps to go, Schurter had a flat tire and Hermida passed him. Unlike in 2010, Schurter only had one flat tire this year and was able to regain contact with Hermida.

"I thought maybe I could make my pace alone in front for the last lap, but it was impossible," said Hermida.

"Mont-Sainte-Anne is like my garden after winning Worlds in 2010. The first time I was here was in 1997. I know the tempo of the course. I know if I have a bad start, where I have to push and where to recover. Luck was a little on my side because Nino flatted.

"Coming into this World Cup was a little like jumping on a train that was running all season, and I just got on it. When it started raining on the last lap, I thought it was my chance to use more technique and not so much power. Everyone was struggling on the last lap."

At one point Hermida crashed and thought his chances were over. Then he got up and saw Schurter was also recovering from a crash just meters ahead. "We were 1-1 in the crashing competition," he joked.

The two marked each other until the end.

The Spanish national champion thought that the rider who came off the bridge near the finish first would win. "I could not get there first. It was complicated and I need to improve my racing pace for a situation like that"

"Making a sprint with Nino is an honor because Nino hasn't lost a sprint in the last two seasons," said Hermida. "To be back on the podium is important, but it's really important to know I am back to racing speed. We have a big appointment in August and another one in September with the Worlds."

Hermida, who joked that he just got with the times this year by switching to a 29er this season, is fifth overall in the World Cup standings. He will race the next World Cup in Windham next weekend while Schurter will sit that one out.

He's not planning on any special preparation for the 2012 Olympics. "I'd like to have an Olympic course like today, but with the Olympics, you never know. I've been in three Olympics before. It's a single day and you never know what happens. It's like a lottery and everybody has a ticket to it."

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.