Current world number three Alban Lakata is a vastly experienced campaigner on South African soil and the Austrian star is firmly focused on making the coveted rainbow striped world champion’s jersey his own when he heads to Pietermaritzburg for the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships on Sunday 29 June.
With one world title under his belt already after his victorious effort at St Wendel in 2010, the Topeak-Ergon Racing Team ace believes he is close to peak condition and is relishing the opportunity to challenge for gold once more, with under one month until the event.
“The World Champs are my primary focus each and every year and this year I’m especially determined because my last world title feels so far away now!” said the 35-year-old title hopeful.
“I will still be happy if I can win a medal but I hope to fly home from South Africa with the rainbow jersey in my suitcase. My form at the moment is already pretty good and with a few more races in my legs before Worlds, I will be ready for action!” he added confidently.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the 2013 runner-up in the build-up to this year’s major though after he suffered an untimely ruptured Achilles tendon in December. The setback was, however, only temporary and upon returning to action Lakata has been as determined as ever to return to full fitness.
“My injury interrupted my long term preparation and, when I did get back on the bike, I could only increase the intensity of my training slowly. Getting back into race shape was huge motivation for me though and, to my surprise, time went by quite fast and my form came back quickly! Now I think I’m probably even fresher and more rested than some of the other riders which will hopefully work in my favour come the big showdown in June!” added Lakata.
Nine South African visits later, Lakata is looking forward to returning to a place he knows well, albeit having never ridden any of the Pietermaritzburg based course beyond the Cascades MTB Park.
“I have ridden in a couple of Cape Epics, sani2cs as well as the MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg. When I first came to South Africa I found it quite a strange place but now it is an absolute pleasure to come back! There is a calmness to the country, the people are so friendly, the food is good and the nature is awesome! I have only seen a map and profile of the course but I expect it will be a very fast race, obviously depending on weather the surface is dry or not.”
With defending champ Christoph Sauser (Specialized Racing) everyone’s primary concern, Lakata points to cross-country wizard Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing), Topeak-Ergon team mate Kristian Hynek, Team Bulls’ Urs Huber as other medal potentials. With sound knowledge of the local riders, Lakata believes there may well be a dark horse or two lying in the South African ranks.
“I know the MTB scene in South Africa quite well and there are definitely some big talents there. On their day then I’d say for sure that a couple of them may be good for a surprise, especially with them being extra motivated to do well in their own country!” said Lakata.
Robert Mennen, currently ranked twenty third in the world, is another Topeak-Ergon star set to make the journey to South Africa in a month’s time. The man whose name became entrenched in cycling enthusiasts’ minds throughout South Africa earlier this year after he and team mate Hynek stormed to victory in the 2014 ABSA Cape Epic, has a slightly different goal to Lakata though.
“The ABSA Cape Epic was the primary event for me this year however next after that is definitely Marathon Worlds!” said Mennen.
“Even though Epic was tough, I would really like to improve on my best Worlds result – ninth –in Pietermaritzburg in June.
Judging by the map and profile of the route, Mennen is relieved as he feels he is far better suited to this year’s course than the one he tackled at last year’s Worlds in Austria.
The UCI MTB Marathon World Championships takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on 29 June 2014. More information can be found at www.mtbworldchamps.co.za