On Saturday 27 June 4015 mountain bikers from more than 50 countries will be on the start line in Selva Val Gardena, Italy as they seek to claim the title of Marathon World Champion. Max Knox and Robyn de Groot will be representing South Africa.
Among the favourites are numerous Olympic, World, European, and National Champions. Each and every participant will need to demonstrate great strength, prime physical condition and an ability to climb the steepest of ascents. Known as the “world’s toughest MTB Marathon”, the men’s course is 87 km and 4,700 metres of elevation while the women’s is 60 km and 3,400 metres of elevation gain.
One of the favourites to win is undoubtedly the actual Olympic, World, and European Champion Jaroslav Kulhavý: The 30 year old Czech rider 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 Kulhavý’s Team Specialized companion Christoph Sauser. The Swiss rider, 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.
Alban Lakata, the Austrian who won the World Championshps 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. The Swiss biker 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.
One rider who is well accustomed to the route is the Colombian Leonardo Paez, having won the race three 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. Completing our look at the favourites mention needs to be made of Marathon specialists Kristian Hynek, he from the Czech Republic, the ex World Champion Periklis Ilias (Greece) and the two time World Champion Roel Paulissen (Belgium).
In the womens race all eyes are on the two Olympic Champions, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjå (Athens 2004) and Sabine Spitz (Peking 2008). The Norwegian champion has won a total of 18 medals including Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships. Five of these results being in occasion of the World Marathon championships. The 42 year old had the chance to inspect the route last week: “The uphills are my strength and should be the most enjoyable part of the challenge…” was her verdict! The German biker Sabine Spitz, the reigning European Champion, will only have the chance to ride the race route in 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 complete programme and further information can be seen at: www.sellarondahero.bike