Why on earth does half of the Norwegian population travel to the Canary Islands to cycle during the winter, when one can fly to wonderful Cyprus for almost the same price? Maybe there are fewer planes going to this amazing cyclist's paradise, but that would quickly change if bike-enthusiast Norwegians were to change destinations!
I am once again buckled into my plane seat as I write, this time on my way home from Cyprus, and my "suit case of adventures" is somewhat bigger and definitely more full of experiences. Loads of wonderful sunshine, beautiful nature, happy and helpful people, great food and unforgettable experiences together with my bicycle and the Merida team.
A four-day stage race in rough terrain has been completed, plus a demanding cross country race yesterday - well-invested time and energy in every way. Competing in this year's Sunshine Cup on Cyprus has been inspiring and loads of fun. I left for Cyprus without particularly high expectations for race results, but with the hopes of being able to compete with that good feeling and a strong body. These hopes have been fulfilled in every way.
First time on Cyprus
I've had two extremely enjoyable weeks with the whole of the Multivan Merida Biking Team troop, for the first time in my whole career. Jose Hermida and I were the only ones taking part on Cyprus for the first time ever, as the others on the team have competed for their own countries in the same race in previous years.
I have to admit that I was slightly lost on some of the stages during the first week, as I hadn't seen any of the tracks beforehand. But this kind of experience is also educational and gives extra adrenaline, which means it wasn't a waste of time at all.
We lived in a small village called Tochni, Cyprus Villages, half an hour's drive from Larnaca Airport. It was a reasonably central location vis-à-vis the various race venues and we got to know the area pretty well. If the whole of Cyprus has just as many exciting dirt roads and tracks as we've seen during these weeks, then Cyprus is simply a "Mecca" for us mountain bikers.
There are roads absolutely everywhere, and one can decide oneself if one wants to do long climbs or rather flat terrain along the coast. There are a mass of small asphalted roads in every direction too, with very little traffic, which also gives roadies a lot to choose from.
What possibly made the greatest impression on me was the hospitality of the people we met. Very open and accommodating, and not in a stilted manner at all. Friendly, genuinely courteous and wonderful to be together with. In addition, almost everybody here speaks good English, which is a great advantage for us tourists. Of course, they drive on the "wrong" side of the road, but one soon gets used to that. It's going to be exciting to get home to RHD driving again, after a fortnight on Cyprus!
The Merida team of course always travels around with the world's best cook, Andi S, so we haven't really gone out to eat much during our stay. But most people say the food here is great, tasty and varied. That in itself can be a good enough reason to visit Cyprus with your bicycle!
It's been great fun for me to compete again, and it was really fantastic to experience getting the first podium finish of the season. Maybe a bit more than I had expected, but we've been training very well this winter and have laid a good foundation for what awaits us this season. My next race will be in Nals in Italy, South Tyrol, and we're looking very much forward to that as we have many great memories from this region.
I have to stay overnight at Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, tonight, but will fly home again to Stavanger early tomorrow morning. It's going to be wonderful to be together with Kenneth and Bjørnar again. I'm looking forward to masses of playing and activities together with our favourite little boy this week.
On Saturday, we're leaving again for Lanzarote (Spain) for a two-week training camp together with my parents. The final week my sister and her husband, Espen, will also visit us, and I'm looking forward to that. We will focus on speed and intervals as a final touch-up and preparation for the World Cup opening in Pietermaritzburg (South Africa) in the middle of April.
Where I'm sitting now, there is terribly little space for my toes, and I'm doing toe-lifts to get a bit of circulation in my legs. I need to use the rest room, but am sitting next to the window, and both the men outside of me are staring with great concentration into their computer screens. I got to exercise my bladder pretty well yesterday as I was picked out for a random doping test and it took almost three hours, so this should work just fine!
Physical activity is good for your body and your mind. If you like, you can get inspired by the movie files of strength-exercises on my official fan page, www.facebook.com/gunnritadahleflesjaa.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]