this article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
The Multivan Merida Biking Team have announced that for 2013 the team will be focusing solely on cross-country racing, and have released marathon specialists Ralph Naf, Jochen Kass, Hannes Genze and Andreas Kugler. Instead, they’ve brought in a couple of young riders in the shape of Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink, the U23 World Champions in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The Multivan Merida presentation wasn’t all about the numbers, but there were some significant ones to acknowledge. As Merida enter their 41st year, a team captain and one of their longest serving riders turned 40 yesterday. Ever the professional, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå took to the stage at the head of proceedings only to be surprised by a huge bouquet of roses, presented by Merida International’s senior vice president William Yeng.
2012 was a year that saw four Merida riders line up at the London Olympic Games, and only just miss out on a medal with Jose Hermida’s fourth in the men’s elite MTB race.
Dahle Flesjå’s Olympic attempt fell apart early on due to a crash and a mechanical, but she bounced back by winning silver at the World Championships, to add to her European crown. In winning two World Cup races she equalled Julie Furtado’s all-time record of 28 victories, and with her continuing form the Norwegian has every chance of taking the record outright this season.
Dahle Flesjå believes that her 16 years of experience count for a lot, and can make the difference between her and the younger generation. She feels as though she’s coming back to her best form following the birth of her son, and that should be a warning considering that 2013’s World Cup final and 2014’s World Championships will be held in Norway.
Gunn-Rita dahle flesjå being presented with a bouquet to celebrate her 40th birthday : gunn-rita dahle flesjå being presented with a bouquet to celebrate her 40th birthday Robin Wilmott/Future Publishing
Dahle Flesjå being presented with her bouquet
Finishing in the top five of the World Cup overall standings for 12 consecutive years, Jose Hermida remains a competitive legend of the sport. At 34, he still has a great passion for the sport. He enjoys being pushed by new riders, and believes some of the missed wins or podiums in 2012 were simply down to bad luck. Hermida hopes the new 650b bike he’s testing will give him that extra something this season.
Dutch Mountain Biker of the Year Rudi van Houts shared victory in the 2012 Andalucia Bike Race with Hermida, was sixth in the European Championships and 12th at the Worlds. A regular top 15 finisher in World Cup races, van Houts wants to step up to the top eight for Merida and the Dutch national team. With a good start, he’s been enjoying XC sprint races and finishes quickly on some courses, so is looking forward to competing for the win more often.
Despite Merida pulling back from marathon racing, Hermida and van Houts will be racing the Absa Cape Epic and Andalucia Bike Race together, aiming for the win.
Jose hermida enjoying the february sun: Robin Wilmott/Future Publishing
Jose Hermida enjoying the February sun
Since his U23 World Championship win in 2011, Thomas Litscher endured a trying 2012. Health issues kept him from training early in the year, and when he regained his fitness he missed out Olympic selection and broke a bone in his hand before the Worlds, finishing his season early. Still only 23 and back to full fitness, the Swiss rider is aiming for the top 10 and World Cup podium in the near future, with the elite world title as a long term goal.
The youngest rider at the London Olympic XC race was Czech Ondrej Cink, who at 21 finished in an impressive 14th place. He followed this up with the World and European U23 titles, and fifth place in the U23 World Cup overall.
In such a historically successful team, Cink is the only current World Champion, but doesn’t feel pressure because of it. Preferring long, steep climbs and racing on full suspension only, his sporting idol is, unusually, Usain Bolt. Explaining, he said that while he’d like to have the success of Jose Hermida in time, he wants to be as fast as Bolt. He hasn’t yet had the chance to race many eliminator races, as he was always racing XC the following day, but now he’s looking forward to pitting his natural speed against the sprint events too.
Ondrej cink leading the charge back down: Robin Wilmott/Future Publishing
Ondrej Cink leading the charge
With a slimmed down and refocused five-rider team for 2013, Multivan Merida look to have a good combination of youth and experience, with a range of specialities that should yield results worldwide between February and September.