The second round of the Sunshine Cup will kick off on Friday with the three-day, HC-categorized, Afxentia stage race, and number-one ranked Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic will be the man to beat there. In the women's race, Voroklini winner Annika Langvad of Denmark will be a favorite along with Norway's Lene Byberg.
Relative to this past weekend's opener in Voroklini, more racers are making their way to the island of Cyprus. Specialized's Kulhavy is one such rider; the 2010 European Champion will be back to see if he can repeat his sweep of all three stages and subsequent overall victory last year. The race proved to be a fantastic season opener for Kulhavy, who went on to have a breakout year.
Kulhavy will be challenged by Voroklini winner Karl Markt (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic biker), Emil Lindgren, Fabian Giger and Adam Craig (all Rabobank-Giant), Christoph Soukup and marathon world champion Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon).
Women's Sunshine Cup leader Langvad will face tougher competition, too. Byberg, Blaza Klemencic and Janka Stevkova are among the favorites.
For the first time in its 12-year history, the Afxentia stage race is being run as an Hors Categorie event per UCI sanctioning. The winner will take home 160 UCI points, one more than a second place finish at the Continental Championships would earn.
The race kicks off Friday, February 25 with a one-lap time trial on the cross country course in the Macheras mountains near Kapedes. The second stage, on Saturday, February 26 is a point-to-point race with start in the village of Kapedes and finish at the picnic area of Mantra tou Kampiou. It's 45km for the men and 40km for the women. The final stage is a regular cross country race on the new, now 5.5km course at Mantra tou Kampiou.
The Afxentia stage race is named after Grigoris Afxentiou, a Cypriot freedom fighter who was killed by the British in the Macheras Mountains.
Racers from 30 nations are pre-registered, which will set a new record for the Sunshine Cup. 160 racers are expected to tow the starting line - more than ever before, which caused organizers to have to bump up the start of the time trial.
2011 Afxentia Stage Race
Friday, February 25: Time Trial, 5.5km
Saturday, February 26: Point-to-point Cross Country, 44.7km (men) / 39.8km (women)
Sunday, February 27: Cross country Race (variable distances by category)