Three elite mountain bike teams - BMC, Cannondale and Scott-Odlo - are sending riders to the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, which kicks off on February 27 with the Afxentia stage race. Among them are Ralph Näf and Lukas Flückiger (both BMC), Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana (both Cannondale) and Florian Vogel (Scott-Odlo Team).
Näf and Flückiger will be making the trip from Switzerland to Cyprus. Flückiger earned the silver medal at cross country Worlds in 2012 while Näf was world champion in the eliminator that same year. He's previously also won marathon Worlds and finished as high as second at cross country Worlds.
While Flückiger has already some experience in racing the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, Näf will be on the Mediterranean island for the first time. Together, the duo will be preparing to race the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in South Africa later in March.
"We want to have race ahead of the Cape Epic, because it would be too hard for the body otherwise. The other reason to race the Afxentia is to check out our new bikes and the setup before using it in South Africa under race conditions," said Näf.
Although the BMC riders claim to just be testing their bodies and equipment, they are real contenders for overall victory in Afxentia.
"I am excited to open my season on Cyprus for the very first time. Finally it worked out for me," said Näf.
Fumic has previously raced a few times at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, but this year he will bring along his 2012 Olympic bronze medallist and teammate Fontana, who will be racing in Cyprus for the first time.
Vogel, who has previously medalled at the European championships and the Worlds, is a two-time Olympian and will be using the racing in Cyprus to prepare for another high level season.
The extension of the Afxentia stage race by one day to four days total seems to be a factor in attracting more elite riders.
José Antonio Hermida and Rudi van Houts of Multivan Merida have already committed to the race - also as preparation for the Cape Epic. Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) had planned to compete, too, but was recently sidelined from competition upon breaking his knee.