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Zakelj aims for rainbow stripes at mountain bike Worlds

Current women's cross country world number one ranked Tanja Zakelj has her eyes firmly set on claiming her first rainbow striped jersey in the elite women's cross country race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at the Cascades MTB Park starting on August 26 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

The Unior Tools Team rider has had a stellar season with two wins from the four UCI MTB World Cup events that have been staged so far in the season with a still solid fifth position in the last leg in Andorra being her worst result of the year thus far.

"So far my season has gone amazingly well," the 24-year-old said. "In the first World Cup in Albstadt, I managed to finish fourth - that was my first podium in the World Cup.

"Then the event at Nové Mesto was even better because I won my first World Cup, and in Val di Sole I managed to defend the World Cup leader's jersey with another win so I've been very happy so far."

To add to her two World Cup wins, the Slovenian went one better by grabbing the continental title in Switzerland.

"I also managed to take the European Championship in Bern this year.

"These results have been fantastic for me, and I want to continue to carry my form through to the world champs."

Being world champion is not a foreign concept to the Slovenian; she has a couple of age group world championship crowns, but is still in hot pursuit of that special elite crown.

"I have won the world championship twice - once as a junior in 2006 and then in the U23 category in 2008. My biggest wish is to win the rainbow jersey in the elite cross country category though, and I'll have the opportunity to try do that in Pietermaritzburg so I'm very excited," said Zakelj.

The world championships will be the pinnacle of the mountain biking calendar for the year and being at the top of her game will be imperative for Zakelj with a number of equally inspired women coming to Pietermaritzburg with the same goal in mind.

"There are a number of highly motivated girls and a lot of them have the ability to take the title.

"One can't count out defending champion Julie Bresset as well as experienced Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, Maja Wloszczowska and Eva Lechner," the European national champion said.

Having been involved in two previous events at the Cascades MTB Park, Zakelj should have an idea of what to expect from the course as well as have a good idea of the lay out of the track.

"I have been to Pietermaritzburg twice - in 2011 and 2012 - and I really enjoyed myself. It is a fantastic course to ride with good organisation and delicious food! Having such friendly people around me made my stay in South Africa very comfortable on both occasions."

"I do expect the track to be fast and technically demanding with some drops and doubles to jump and other obstacles as it also was for the World Cups in previous years," she said.

The current European champion heads into the world championships with a number of titles under her belt already this year and will be one of the riders to watch when the show comes to town at the end of August.

Being able to embrace the surrounding environment and use it in one's favour will be important for all the riders but Zakelj feels she can handle this.

"It is an interesting course with a good crowd and the loud and enthusiastic spectators always give me a special feeling. To compete in a race with that kind of atmosphere makes it much easier to race past your limits."

The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from August 26 to September 1, 2013.

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