The Olympic champions Jaroslav Kulhavy, Sabine Spitz, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa and Julie Bresset are leading the bunch of world class mountain bike riders, showing up for the 20th edition of the Afxentia stage race from 25 to 28 this month.
Regarding the years before, it was just difficult to improve. A lot of the very best cross country and marathon racers since years are showing up for the Cyprus Sunshine Cup regularly. The 2016 edition of the stage race in the Macheras Mountains presents a fantastic number of top acts in its natural arena and it’s worth to be an anniversary edition.
The 20th Afxentia stage race proudly presents: Four Olympic champions, six world champions, 50 world cup wins and numerous international medals are on the registration list. And more than 140 mountain bike riders are out of 26 different countries. Enough reasons to celebrate then.
Kulhavy: Training went 100 percent
Difficult to predict what will happen during the race days. Of course the top riders have their eyes on the 20th and 21st of August, when the cross country races at Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro are taking place. The gold medalist of the London Olympics, Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) is highly experienced in racing the Afxentia. Same as before his glorious London victory in 2012, the Czech uses the sunny island in this period for racing and training to build up his shape. For him, there is another big goal this year: The world championships in front of his home crowd in Nove Mesto.
Kulhavy says: “The whole winter was without any problems. Training went 100 percent and health, too. I mean, I can win the Afxentia, but I don’t have super shape yet. The whole Cyprus Sunshine Cup is mainly super training and first high intensity for me. Two weeks in Cyprus are great to set up the bike and test other new material.”
His compatriot Ondrej Cink (Multivan-Merida) should have the same goals. The u23 world champion of 2012 finally arrived in the elite category, when grabbing the bronze medal at the worlds in Andorra 2015.
Vogel: I try to defend my title
Searching for a favorite, we have to look on Florian Vogel. The Swiss Focus rider took last years Afxentia in an impressive manner and he added five more victories in a row in the following few months.
“I’m looking forward to open my season in Cyprus again. I clearly see it as a good opportunity and part of my preparation for the upcoming 2016 season”, Vogel tells. He sees himself in a good shape to defend his title. “My training structure allows me to be competitive all around the year. I expect a good feeling and I will try to defend my overall win”, Vogel says. “I am looking forward to the really good single trails and Sunday’s cross country course”, he adds.
Germany’s national champion Manuel Fumic aims for a bit more than 10th place in 2015. After a perfect training camp in South Africa, he thinks to be on a higher level than the year before. “I do not want to put it that high, but I am excited to race again on Cyprus. I think, I am prepared for it”, the Cannondale rider tells.
The list of contenders is not ready yet. You could continue with Maxime Marotte, Jordan Sarrou (both BH-Sr Suntour-KMC, Fra), Fabian Giger (Kross Racing, Sui), Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing, Ita), José Antonio Hermida (Multivan-Merida, Esp) and some more. Remember for example Grant Ferguson (CST Superior Brentjens, Gbr), who 2015 surprisingly won the second stage in Lefkara?
Women: Kick off and more
The concentration of top riders is not less in the women’s part of Afxentia. Worlds most successful mountain bike rider Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan-Merida) leads this bunch. The Olympic champion of Athens 2004, ten times world champion and current marathon world champion says: “I’m very excited to start racing again in Cyprus. I never win races in February, so I do not expect to win this time either.” Anyway, the 29 times world cup winner will be up in the top, of course.
It should be the same for Sabine Spitz. The German for the first time will ride the Cape Epic (13/3 to 20/3). “You can call it a kick-off for South Africa, but of course I also want to collect some points for the world ranking. Years ago, I always needed some time to adjust my engine to the intensity of cross country racing. Some years ago, I changed some things in the winter and then performed better in the Afxentia”, the three times Olympic medal winner explains.
Eva Lechner: Cyprus is perfect in this part of the season
The third Olympic gold medalist in the bunch is Julie Bresset (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC). The French was struggling for the last two years, but the Olympic dream still exists in her mind. It will be exciting to watch if she has made a decisive step.
Eva Lechner (Luna Pro Team) has done the cyclo cross season, very successful, despite bad luck at the worlds. Probably she will be on a different point with her preparation than the others. “Perhaps I can take the intensity a bit easier, but that doesn’t mean, to be stronger than the other girls. I think it will be not too bad for me, but the main reason to come is training”, Lechner tells. “Cyprus is perfect in this part of the season.”
The one, who will join Sabine Spitz for the Cape Epic duo, should be also on the list. It’s the Ukrainian Yana Belomoina (CST Superior Brentjens), who took bronze at the worlds in Andorra.
Then maybe talk about her teammate Margot Moschetti (Fra) former world cup overall winner Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools, Slo) or the Germans Helen Grobert (Ghost Factory Racing) and Adelheid Morath (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC), who already won stages at the Afxentia.
World number one Jolanda Neff (Stöckli Pro Team) is not in the race, because she wants to compete in the Olympic road race, too. So she has to do prepare for some road racing in this period of the season.
Dates of he Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2016:
February 25 to 28 - Afxentia stage race (SHC)
March 6 - Voroklini (C1)