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Spitz's best is yet to come

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Sabine Spitz (Germany) on her way to second at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland

Sabine Spitz (Germany) on her way to second at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland (Image credit: Didier Weemaels)
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Sabine Spitz (Germany)

Sabine Spitz (Germany) (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

By Bjorn Haake

Sabine Spitz is Germany's top female mountain biker. Winning the German championships from 2001 to 2006 without interruption showed her domination of the German race scene and in fact, 2007 was the first year she had to settle for silver, behind current time trial road time trial and former cyclo-cross world champion Hanka Kupfernagel. However, overall her 2007 season was very successful. She called 2007 "one of the best years of racing."

It is hard to argue with two European Championships titles, one in cross country, obtained in Turkey in July, and one in the marathon, at the end of the season on home soil in St. Wendel, Germany. Throw in a silver medal at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, and it is easy to see why the 35 year-old does not give any thought to retirement. But how did she get where she is today?

Spitz's career got jump-started in the early 1990s. Her boyfriend (and now husband and manager) Ralf Schäuble was a runner, but had to switch to mountain biking due to an injury. It didn't kill his competitive spirit and so he entered some local races. Spitz didn't want to stay behind and decided to also give mountain bike racing a shot. The rest, as they say, is history.

Spitz's experienced some success right away, but most of the races were, of course, smaller, with few spectators. Then 1995 rolled around and the World Championships were almost in her backyard, in Kirchzarten, Germany. At the time, individuals were able to participate. The German federation still required certain placings, but Spitz was able to satisfy those with some top ten places in national races.

"I got eighth in two races in the Grundig Top Ten races, the predecessor to the Bundesliga races we have now in Germany." Her starting position on the big day wasn't so great, "There were 160 starters and I was in the last row," Spitz laughed. But she managed to pass many competitors to end up in 35th. That day changed her whole outlook on the sport.

"The masses of spectators were incredible – 30,000 people. It was so different than what I was used to from the other races." It made her go out and look for a ... coach. Until then she hadn't trained with any structure. Steadily, she moved up to the top ranks and also started to race more internationally.

"The first time I went to the US, I did the Cactus Cup in Arizona, then Sea Otter [Monterey, California] and the World Cup in Napa. We stayed with a friend in San Francisco for three weeks. A nice city – I can imagine why people want to live there," she recalled her experiences across the pond. Unfortunately, she discovered things weren't always as they seemed. "The weather in California wasn't quite as we had expected. We had a different image in our head. The races were in the spring, and it still can get pretty cold there. One year it was raining like crazy."

But she did enjoy the courses. "The Americans have a different attitude when they put the courses together. The loops are much longer [Sea Otter is around 30km]," Spitz was happy for the change. "It makes it much more interesting for the racers, but is of course less spectator-friendly and it is also not great for the team helpers."

To read the complete feature, click here.

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