Three Olympic champions: Jaroslav Kulhavy, Sabine Spitz and Marianne Vos, will be competing at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup round 2 this weekend. The 17th edition of the three-day Afxentia stage race will begin on Friday afternoon in the Macheras Mountains on the Mediterranean island.
After his victory in Voroklini last weekend, Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) will be the man to beat. Although he reported suffering stomach troubles on Tuesday, the Czech rider confirmed his start and said: "I'm ok again. I am looking forward to the race."
Giant Pro XC teammates Fabian Giger and Emil Lindgren will be looking to upset Kulhavy. Giger was just 10 seconds behind last weekend while Lindgren was slowed by mechanical problems. Other men to watch include 2011 overall Sunshine Cup winner Karl Markt (Ötztal Scott), who pulled out last weekend due to a mechanical, Henk-Jaap Moorlag (Giant Pro XC), Kevin van Hoovels (Versluys) and Sabastian Carabin (Merida Wallonie).
Vos a bit nervous
Three-time Olympic medallist Sabine Spitz (Haibike) will open her season this weekend after a lot of cross country skiing.
"The race on Friday is mentally far away," said Spitz on Twitter. The German is looking forward to sun and warmer temperatures.
Spitz will battle Marianne Vos, the road Olympic champion who will return to mountain bike racing for the first time in her elite career. She last raced off-road when she was a junior in 2005. Vos will guest ride for Giant Pro XC when not racing for Rabobank/Liv Giant.
"Of course, I am a bit nervous," said Vos. "It's quite a challenge, but I am looking forward to it."
"It's a tough course, and I am not used to it," Vos added, after benefiting from some one-on-one technical skills training with Oscar Saiz at a team camp on Wednesday in Kalavasos.
Vos has been training in Cyprus for a week. "It's really good, I like it so far. I had good training rides along the coast and also long uphills in the mountains. The roads are good as well," she said, noting that road riding is still her main focus.
Other top female contenders for the Afxentia race include last weekend's winner Blaza Klemencic (Calcit Bike), last weekend's runner-up Katrin Leumann (Ghost Factory Racing), Eva Lechner (Colnago-Südtirol), current U23 world champion Jolanda Neff (Giant Pro XC), Adelheid Morath (Sabine Spitz-Haibike) and Lisi Osl (Ghost Factory Racing).
Osl is in Cyprus for four weeks and said, "The Afxentia race will be a nice alternative to training and will help me get in some intensity by competing against other top riders."
Small changes to the course
The Afxentia stage race contains three stages: time trial, point-to-point and a regular cross country race. The point-to-point course on Saturday has changed a bit. The start from Kapedes will follow now a dirt road up to the picnic site Mantra tou Kampiou, before entering the well known course through beautiful Macheras Mountains. For the women, the course remains the same; but the men's course has a new 250m section of singletrack at kilometre 17. Distances are 41km for the women and 45.5km for the men. for the men.
The Afxentia stage race is a UCI category HC event. It is named after Grigoris Afxentiou, a Cypriot freedom fighter who was killed in 1957 by the British in the Macheras Mountains.