Current women's world number three cross country mountain biker Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) of Italy is no stranger to South African conditions and will be hoping to stake a claim for the rainbow-striped jersey when she takes part in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from the August 26 to September 1.
The Colnago team rider recently completed the Andorra leg of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and finished in a respectable third place overall in the elite women's category, the top performance even more impressive due to Lechner having been ill for the week leading up to the race.
"After the World Cup in Andorra, I was quite tired," Lechner said. "I had been sick beforehand so I used all of my energy in the race.
"In saying that, I think I am in really good shape physically and mentally at the moment, otherwise I wouldn't have ridden such a good race."
Producing a result like that under the strain that she was under will give the 17-time Italian national champion an important boost ahead of the world championships.
"After a week of being sick, I actually achieved more than I had expected because I was really close to another victory. Of course, I would have wanted to win but I am more than content with my result in Andorra."
Lechner still has an event to compete in before the final phase of fine tuning for the world champs begins and her next race could well prove to be the final "dress rehearsal" for the big event in Africa's "Bike City" at the end of August.
"There is a World Cup in Canada that I will be competing in first [Mont-Sainte-Anne - Ed.] and then we have got a team camp where we will polish up and get ready to head to South Africa for the Worlds."
Familiarity with the conditions could well prove vital in the gaining of those vital seconds and meters over one's opponents, an advantage Lechner enjoys having gotten to know the Cascades course well in recent years and will need to use in its entirety if she is to challenge for the title.
"I have competed in South Africa three times before, and I have also done the Cape Epic once.
"I really enjoy the course in Pietermaritzburg. It is hard and technically challenging and those are the conditions that I enjoy racing in," said the Italian national champion.
With the event taking place at the end of August the South African spring will be in the air, however few would be brave enough to predict exactly what conditions the riders will be presented come race day.
"The only thing I hope is that if it's raining, it is not raining hard because the ground gets like ice then which can be very dangerous," said Lechner.
"The course becomes totally different when it rains," she said.
Going into the Worlds Lechner is seen by many as one of the favourites for the women's crown after producing a string of top results throughout the year, including a first place finish in the first World Cup event in Germany and a second place in the European Continental Championship.
A temporary slump in form slowed her down momentarily after that, however the determined competitor has started finding her feet again well, helped greatly by her positive result in Andorra.
Improving on her sixth place at last year's world championships is going to be a major goal for Lechner and being able to get into the top three is her ultimate prize.
"I really want to win a medal this year at the world champs," Lechner said.
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