Czech star Jaroslav Kulhavy took his third overall victory at the Afxentia Stage Race in Cyprus. A second place finish behind the Frenchman, Jordan Sarrou, on the final stage at Mantra tou Kampiou was enough for the London Olympic Champion to keep yellow.
In the women’s competition, the Belgian Champion, Githa Michiels, defeated Sabine Spitz by only three seconds in the overall, while Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa took the final stage.
On a warm and sunny day in the Macheras Mountains, the dominating trio of the Men’s cross-country race were also the top three in the overall classification. Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) and Jordan Sarrou (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC) escaped early but then Kulhavy slowed the speed down so that his compatriot, Jan Skarnitzl (Sram Mitas Trek), could close the gap.
Fourth placed Hans Becking (Ned, CST Sandd American Eagle) suffered another flat tyre early on in the race and lost a lot of time.
The leading trio stayed together until the last lap. When Sarrou pushed for the stage win, Skarnitzl was no longer able to hold the pace.
Sarrou rode the last uphill really hard in order to get into the final single trail in first position, and from here he could defend his position.
Sarrou won the stage with Kulhavy at his back wheel, while Skarnitzl took third spot on the podium (+0:51).
The overall classification stayed the same as it was before the final day. Kulhavy won the Afxentia Stage Race for the third time after 2010 and 2012, and is now equal with Fabian Giger (Kross Racing) as record holder.
Jaroslav Kulhavy: "The whole time of the race, I did my own pace. When Sarrou started to attack, then Jan was behind him and I could not follow. That was the only time, when I had to go full gas. Then it was clear, that he wants the stage win. For me, it was really important to keep the overall lead, I did not risk anything. I will stay on Cyprus for some more training towards the Cape Epic. My shape seems to be better than I thought.”
Jordan Sarrou: Jaro was too strong to attack him for the overall. The very last lap I tried to accelerate, but this was more to train for going a hard last lap. I am satisfied with this week. I have no regrets, I gave all that I had. I loved to race here. It’s a great atmosphere and the organization is good. To be second behind Jaroslav Kulhavy is not a problem. I am happy with my shape.”
Jan Skarnitzl: “I felt good today. At the beginning, it was maybe a little bit fast for me. But Jaro waited for me and I could maintain tempo. Jaro was doing the flats, two times I went in front, but I knew, that last lap it’s gonna be between Jaro and Sarrou. I am really happy with my third place.”
Women: Dahle-Flesjaa repeats cross country victory
It was in an impressive manner that mountain bike legend, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Merida Gunn-Rita), took the victory at the final stage of the Afxentia Stage Race, repeating what she did last year. The record World Champion went into the lead in the start loop and never looked back.
Yana Belomoina (CST Sandd American Eagle) and, in the early stages, Malene Degn (Ghost Factory Racing), were trying to follow her, but the engine of Dahle-Flesjaa was working very well today!
Dahle-Flesjaa extended her lead lap by lap and finally finished in 1:16:21, with a gap of 1:05 to Yana Belomoina. The Ukrainian was fighting against the chasing Sabine Spitz (WIAWIS), but the German champion herself was looking behind her to the chasers, not ahead at the chase.
Spitz went into the cross country race with a deficit of twenty-five seconds to Githa Michiels (Versluys), and after the second lap she was already in the virtual lead by six seconds.
However, she lost time when she struggled in a downhill section and fell into the bushes. This allowed Michiels to close the gap to only ten seconds and thus bring herself back into the overall lead again.
Spitz pushed hard and in the final kilometres she extended the difference again up to twenty-two seconds, but it was three seconds too little for the German.
Michiels denied Spitz her first Afxentia overall win, and in doing so claimed her own.
Barbara Benko (Focus XC), who before the cross country race was in second position overall thanks to her Stage three victory, suffered on the final stage but was able to defend her third position in the general classification with a sixth place finish on the day.
Githa Michiels: “I can’t believe it, this is one of the biggest successes of my career. I stayed calm for all day, feeling strong in the climbs from the beginning. In the downhill section I was not so fine in the first laps, but I knew, I could do a lot in the end of the race. Still it was a thrilling final, unbelievable to have such a small gap after four days. For me after a hard year, it’s really nice that everything falls in the right place again.”
Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa: “This was my day. As from my training I know, I can do cross country races. We train this during the winter, but I have no longer climb than seven minutes in my program. So cross country, that’s my thing and I am happy to leave Cyprus with a victory.”
Sabine Spitz: “I lost the decisive seconds, when I made a mistake in a technical section. I pushed myself out of the course. In the first lap my chain was falling down, that cost seconds also. Anyway, Githa was strong these days, she deserves the win. Second place is not too bad. I am okay with my performance towards the Cape Epic.”
Barbara Benko: “My idea was to go my own speed, I knew Sabine and Gunn-Rita would be riding very strong, they are so experienced. Today I felt really, really bad, but I gave everything to save the spot on the podium. Therefore I am happy and I could see, that the shape is right there.”
Yana Belomoina: “My legs were painful after three days, but I did my best to keep Sabine away during the flat sections. That’s my week point. Finally I am happy to finish the Afxentia with a podium.”
And so the Cyprus Sunshine Cup - Afxentia Stage Race is done for another year, and what a thrilling race we were treated to this time! Thank you to all the riders for showcasing your talents here on Cyprus, and thank you to all the people that made it happen.
Stayed tuned for the final round of the Sunshine Cup, the Amathus XCO race on 5th March.