Näf joined Multivan Merida heading into the 2003 season as the runner up at the U23 cross country world championships. It was the beginning of a long and successful partnership.
He is ending his time with Multivan Merida on a high note, too. In September, he became the first eliminator world champion.
"Throughout the years, I witnessed how the team became more and more professional, morphing to one of the world's most powerful teams," said Näf. "For an athlete, it's almost important to fully rely on his surroundings at the races, from the physiotherapist to the race mechanic. And it's also important that the members of the team get along well. We had both in an exemplary manner at the Multivan Merida Biking Team. Despite its evolution, the team's structures remained decidedly informal, and I am sure that this was a key factor for all the successes that I got to celebrate in the team's jersey."
In professional sports, long-term commitments are exceptional, although the Multivan Merida Biking Team is different in this regard. José Hermida is going into his 10th season in the team's colours in 2013. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå has been riding for the squad since 2002, excepting a brief break to have a baby.
During the past 10 years, Näf won the Swiss national, European and marathon world championships. He was part of the medal-winning Swiss national team relay at the European and world championships, and he celebrated two World Cup victories.
"Without the team, I could have never been that successful," said Näf. "This is where I made my step to the pro ranks, this is where I celebrated my biggest wins. At the same time, as a brand ambassador I had a key role in establishing Merida as a manufacturer of high-end bicycles in Switzerland as well."
Näf expressed his thanks to his long-time team and its sponsors, before turning his attention to the future. "I had a great time with the team, but for the remaining two to four years of my career, I felt that I needed a change of surroundings. Besides, I felt that it was time for me to step aside and make way for the next generation of promising riders."
As the Multivan Merida Team Manager, Andreas Rottler has nothing but praise for his departing rider. "We are losing likely the most versatile professional mountain bike racer with Ralph Näf. His successes all emphasise Ralph's versatility and show his exceptional talent. He was not only convincing in the saddle, but has evolved to become a full-fledged professional beyond the race course as well. And of course, he has been involved in the development of Merida's race bikes. Ralph has always been passionate about evolving and fine-tuning his equipment, which has caused a couple of sleepless nights both for the team's mechanics and Merida's designing engineers."
Rottler said, "It was not an easy decision to go ahead without Ralph. We have been analyzing the situation with Ralph, and we came to the same conclusion. Our philosophy is well-known: We prefer long-term relationships with our riders, but we also see that sometimes a fresh stimulus is needed, which goes for both the riders and our team. I would like to thank Ralph and wish him many moments of success on the bike for the future on behalf of the entire Multivan Merida Biking Team."
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