The 2015 UCI Marathon MTB World Championships are quickly becoming a clash of the titans. With many World, National and Olympic champions lining up to contest the men’s and women’s elite titles, the race this Saturday is set to be one of the best marathon races for spectators and racers alike.
The HERO Bike Festival that supports the race is up and running and so is the fabulous programme of fringe events. But it’s this Saturday 27 June when 4015 mountain bikers from more than 50 countries will be ready for the marathon in Selva Val Gardena. The elite field will be seeking to win the world crown in the 6th edition of the Südtirol Sellaronda HERO.
Athletes are already gathering, many descending to Val Gardena from training camps in Livigno. Among the favourites there are numerous Olympic, World, European, and National Champions and also five previous winners of the HERO. The 87 km and 4,700 metres of elevation gain on the men’s route and the 60 km and 3,400 metres of elevation gain on the shorter route used by women will take great strength and aerobic efficiency, and fantastic bike handling. The singletrack descents are steep, and offer little respite from the very steep climbs.
One of the favourites to win is undoubtedly the actual Olympic, World, and European Champion Jaroslav Kulhavý.
The 30 year old Czech says “My goal is to defend the World Title I won last year in South Africa. This year’s route is not comparable with the one in Pietermaritzburg and this makes it even more of an incentive to win here in Val Gardena.”
Another big favourite is without doubt Kulhavý’s Team Specialized companion Christoph Sauser. The Swiss racer, four times MTB World Champion and Olympic bronze winner stated “As far as the XCM goes I have a lot of natural stamina and this should work in my favour.” This is his last race as a professional and his determination to win is abundantly clear. He just finished 2nd in the Bike4Peaks, including a stage win – despite 2 broken ribs.
Alban Lakata, the Austrian who won the World Championships in 2010 declared “The Sellaronda HERO is one of my main objectives for this year.” He has already taken part in a HERO race but was denied a place on the podium due to a puncture. Lakata tested his form at the Alpentour Trophy, and while he lost the overall on the final day – it was by just 1 second. He’s also racing on a snazzy new Canyon hardtail.
The Swiss Bull, Urs Huber, is also keen to finish at the very top of the race ladder. In 2008 he won bronze at the World Championships and in 2014 he was second in the HERO. “Last year I spent a few days in Val Gardena so as to study the route in great detail. I concentrated a lot on deciding the best way to manage the steep climbs, above all those at Dantercepies, at Sourasass, and at Duron, so as to have well clear in my mind how difficult and decisive they are going to be.” Huber is a big, strong engine. It remains to be seen how the likes of Huber, Kulhavy and Lakata will fare on the steep climbs compared to the more slight riders like Sauser, Longo, Paez and others.
Colombian Leonardo Paez is well accustomed to the route, having won the race 3 times between 2012 and 2014. He commented “In my opinion the route is difficult and distinguishes well between the riders, and is also real beautiful landscape all around. I can’t wait to get started”.
Right now Paez is leading the Marathon World Series ahead of the Portuguese star Tiago Ferreira. Leading the Italian grouping is the National Champion Samuele Porro, winner in 2013 over the shorter distance and at the moment number 4 in the WS rankings. Paez’s team member at Bianchi I.Idro Drain Tony Longo, winner of the Alpentrophy, is back in 7th position.
We also need to consdier Kristian Hynek from the Czech Republic, the ex World Champion Periklis Ilias (Greece) and the two time World Champion Roel Paulissen (Belgium), who seems to have developed an eating disorder ahead of the race, given his appearance at the Alpentour Trophy.
In the womens race all eyes are on the two Olympic Champions, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjå (Athens 2004) and Sabine Spitz (Beijing 2008). The Norwegian champion has won a total of 18 medals including Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships. Five of these results from the World Marathon championships.
The 42 year old had the chance to inspect the HERO route last week: “The uphills are my strength and should be the most enjoyable part of the challenge…” was her verdict! \
German racer Sabine Spitz, the reigning European Champion, will only have the chance to ride the race route this week and as far as the demanding climbs are concerned she said: “I’ll be a little afraid of the climbs too but I guess I won’t be able to flatten out the mountains!”
Annika Langvad from Denmark will come to Val Gardena as reigning World Champion and when asked what her objective was her reply was a simple one “Victory!”. Sally Bigham is another who has ambitions to finish on the podium and win her first World Title. The English heroine has an advantage over her rivals in that she knows the area really well and actually won the HERO in 2013: “If all goes according to plan I am hopeful of picking up a medal. Any colour will do! The route is similar to that of 2013 so I hope that this factor works in my favour.” Other possible contenders for the podium are the 2010 World Champion, Esther Süss (Switzerland) and Italian Champion, Daniela Veronesi.
The winner’s arrival in the women’s race should be home at about 11.00 in Piazza Nives in Selva in Val Gardena, and the men’s champion should cross the finishing line at about 11.50.