The second round of the 2012 Cyprus Sunshine Cup will kick off on Friday with the first stage of the Afxentia stage race. 120 men and 50 women are registered for the three-day SHC-categorized event.
Going into it, Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) and Annika Langvad (Fujibikes Rocket) are the favorites to beat, but a lot can happen in three days.
Kulhavy will have to watch out for the brothers Lukas and Mathias Flückiger (Trek World Racing), who should be better prepared than in Voroklini. Last weekend's challengers Liam Killeen (Giant) and Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak-Ergon) are likely to be podium contenders again while Frenchman Maxime Marotte (BH Suntour-Peisey Vallandry) has just arrived on the island and will jump into the series this weekend. Marotte finished 2011 ranked fifth in the World Cup.
"Wolfram was pretty strong on the uphill. I had to suffer a lot, especially in the first two laps," said Kulhavy of Kurschat's efforts in Voroklini. Kulhavy added that he considers these Sunshine Cup races are part of his training, but thinks that is probably the case for most of the favorites.
Under 23 world champion Thomas Litscher (Felt Oetztal X-Bionic) and Fabian Giger (Rabobank-Giant) are two others to watch.
Greek champion Periklis Ilias also will appear at Mantra tou Kampiou near the village of Kapedes, where the stage race takes place. He will be trying to get as many points as possible to secure a Greek spot for the Olympic Games in London in August.
With 160 points awarded to the winner of the Afxentia stage race, doing well is important for both world ranking and Olympic qualification.
The points are particularly important for Annika Langvad, who is fighting for an Olympic spot for Denmark and herself. If she can take the Afxentia overall, Denmark probably will overtake New Zealand and Ukraine in the rankings before the start of the World Cup.
In Voroklini, Langvad showed up well, earning a victory. On her website, she wrote afterward, "To realize that my legs are just great is like opening a great bag of candy. Well, I ate the whole bag and enjoyed every piece of it."
Who among the 50 women will be most dangerous to Langvad? Sabine Spitz and Tereza Hurikova (both Sabine Spitz- Haibike) were close to her at Voroklini, but the mix of three stages is different than a one-day race. Last year, Blaza Klemencic (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic) was second in the overall. She should be a serious contender as well.
Katrin Leumann (Ghost Factory Racing) should also be able to get with the front group and Tanja Zakelj (Salcano Factory Team) may be closer to the podium than in Voroklini.
Two-time world champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) is skipping the Afxentia stage race. The Russian will come back to compete in the final race at Amathous.
Afxentia: Small changes and a new participation record
The Afxentia stage race starts on Friday with a one-lap time trial on the 5.5-kilometer cross country course in the Macheras mountains.
The second stage will be a point-to-point cross country race with start in the village of Kapedes and a finish at the picnic area of Mantra tou Kampiou. It's about 44.7km for the men, and 39.8km for the women. With 4.5km to go, racers will be on new singletrack.
The final stage is a regular, multi-lap cross country race on the course at Mantra tou Kampiou. It also has some new singletrack.
The Afxentia stage race is named after Grigoris Afxentiou, a Cypriot freedom fighter who was killed by the British in the Macheras Mountains.
A record 170 riders are pre-registered from 26 different nations.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Afxentia race.