This Sunday, German 'cross champion Hanka Kupfernagel (Stevens Racing) will compete in front of her own countrymates at the UCI World Cyclo-cross Championships, held in Sankt Wendel. By standing at the start line, this four-time cyclo-cross world champion will be poised to shape both the race as well as German media.
"German TV will show the full women's race live, but maybe only 20 minutes in the evening of the men's race," Kupfernagel told Cyclingnews. "I think it's a bit because of me - I won there [in the 2005 world championships].
"It was the same for the European Championships in Frankfurt [earlier in the season]. I was thinking not to start due to an injury, but then the organizers told me, 'Hanka, if you don't come then the TV is not coming'. I didn't believe them but after they assured me that they were specifically told that if Kupfernagel doesn't start, we don't send a camera crew, then I decided to race.
"I figured that if it doesn't work out with my injury, I can always stop but at least then the camera crew is already there." She indeed finished the race for a respectable fourth place.
One would think that this sort of spotlight would add to the stress of racing, but Kupfernagel gladly welcomes it. "They try to make pressure for me, but actually I am proud of the attention that we get," said Kupfernagel. "In Germany, it is especially difficult because we have all these good winter athletes in sports like ski jumping, biathlons and cross country skiing. There's a lot of attention for these sports but they forgot cyclo-cross a little bit. So that's why I am really happy that they show it on TV, and it's good for my sponsors of course."
When asked what it will feel like to once again compete in Sankt Wendel for the cyclo-cross world championship, Kupfernagel said, "I wouldn't think about it that way because six years is quite a long time and I already had many years in my legs. But this time around I am very happy that I am still able to compete with the top in the world.
"I'm also looking forward to riding there again because it's a big deal for German cyclo-cross as well as for this quiet region in Germany where an event like this is very expensive. It's only possible because of Sankt Wendel's mayor, Klaus Bouillon (mayor since 1983). The town employees all worked hard the last six months mainly on this race. Before the Mayor leaves office in a few years, he plans to organize at least one more European Championship and the world championships for mountain bikes."
As for her pre-race preparation, one activity she ventured to do before her win in Sankt Wendel six years ago will not be repeated this time around - namely a trip to a tanning salon in an attempt to slightly offset the exceptionally dark winter months. "The last time I went to a tanning salon was so long ago that I didn't know exactly how long I should go. I asked my friend who told me it makes no sense to go less than 30 or 40 minutes. I didn't realize at the time that he was teasing me.
"The next day I went to the tanning salon and saw my options were five minutes, 10 minutes and 15 minutes. I thought 'maybe I take 15 minutes'. Yeah, it's not 30 minutes so I will put it on full power. After laying there for 10 minutes I felt like I was burning, but I stuck it out thinking I am only doing 15 minutes. I was a bit naïve.
"A day later I saw I was absolutely red. A few days after that I raced in the Nommay World Cup where it was very cold. You never see me going without knee warmers and long arms - I am always the most warmly dressed. But there I wore only a short sleeve skinsuit, not even gloves, so I could cool my arms and legs off. A week later, all my skin was peeling off but I did end up with a good tan for Worlds. Since then, I have never gone back," chuckled Kupfernagel.
Entering the world championships with second place finishes in the last two rounds of the World Cup, the fair-skinned Kupfernagel's fitness is again right on schedule for an excellent performance where she is expected to vie for the top step of the podium against Dutch champion Marianne Vos and US champion Katie Compton.