The 2013 Cyprus Sunshine Cup will kick off in Voroklini on Saturday, February 23 with several top riders in attendance. Among the men are Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), Fabian Giger (Giant Pro XC Team) and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale) while eliminator world champion Alexandra Engen, Eva Lechner, Katrin Leumann and Blaza Klemencic top the women's start list.
Kulhavy won the Voroklini race last year, and he is hoping to repeat the success, however, he cautioned that it will only be the first intense effort in his build-up toward the Cape Epic stage race in mid-March.
For most of the other contenders, it will also be their first test of the season. Giger, who was second in Voroklini last year and won the overall Sunshine Cup, will likely be Kulhavy's biggest challenger. Last year, only two seconds separated the two top riders.
German national champ Fumic hopes to be with the front guys again. "There are top guns at the start line, and I want to one of them. My training was very good and I'm looking forward to the race on the nice course at Voroklini." In 2012, he lost contact with the leaders after a crash and finished fourth, 30 seconds back.
Fumic's two young teammates are two other riders to watch. Anton Cooper is fresh off winning the New Zealand national title while Keegan Swenson of the US will be kicking off his season.
Other podium contenders include Swede Emil Lindgren (Giant Pro XC Team), his teammate Henk-Jaap Moorlag of the Netherlands and Karl Markt (Oetztal Scott), who won the overall Sunshine Cup in 2011.
The women's race may boil down to a battle between Alexandra Engen, her Ghost teammate Katrin Leumann, Blaza Klemencic (Calcit Bike) and Eva Lechner (Colnago-Südtirol).
On the paper, Lechner should be the favourite as the 2011 cross country world championship bronze medallist.
"I take these races as a preparation for the Cape Epic and also the warmth of Cyprus to do some long distance training. Intensity, I had a lot in the winter," said Lechner, who just finished up her cyclo-cross season. At the 'cross Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky, she was close to a medal, but finished on sixth place.
Engen had some bad luck in Voroklini last year when she injured her wrist by a crash, but she wasn't dwelling on that. "Why should I think about the last year? I am looking forward to my first race. I like the course at Voroklini, and I am excited about how I will do. Before the first race you never know, whether you are a small moped or a Ferrari," said Engen.
Leumann also did some cyclo-cross racing this winter, but not at a level as high as Lechner. The 2010 European champion and 2012 Olympian from Switzerland is a podium contender along with the Slovenian Klemencic, who was fourth at the race last year.
Finally, women's junior world champion Andrea Waldis (Colnago-Südtirol) will also be mixing it up with her elders.
Last year's Voroklini winner, Annika Langvad, will not be competing.