Two Swedes, Emil Lindgren and Alexandra Engen, won the opening round of the 2009 Sunshine Cup from Tochni to Kalavasos in Cyprus on Sunday.
In the men's race, Lindgren proved his role as Sweden's next big mountain bike hope after Fredrik Kessiakoff switched from mountain bike to road racing full-time for 2009.
The talented Lindgren suffered a flat tire with about 10km to go on the 48.3km race. He fell behind the group when making the repair.
However, Lindgren overcame his untimely handicap and the 23-year-old, in his first race for his new Felt Team, chased hard and brought himself back into contention for the final sprint against Periklis Ilias (ISD Cycling Team) of Greece. Ilias, just 22 years-old, took second, surprising everyone with his strong ride. He's a relative unknown in the world of mountain biking although he did place 31st at the World Cup finals last fall in Schladming, Austria.
"I did not expect I could win in the sprint because I was a little tired from catching up to the front guys after my rear flat," said Lindgren. "I had to really hurry to get back to them, but it worked. Now I am really happy."
"I have been coming to Cyprus every year since 2005, and this is my first win. I believed in myself and knew I had a chance for the gold."
In the women's race, Engen was surprised when she was told she was leading the race. The 21-year-old talent didn't let the pressure get to her and kept herself on pace to take her first victory outside of Scandinavia.
"I'm really happy. I enjoyed the race, my legs felt great today and the course fits me," said Engen. "I did not know how I would feel before the start, but eventually I was in the lead."
"I did not know I was leading until the second feed zone, where I asked how I was doing and got a reply that I was in first. That was welcome news - it was hard to tell where the other women were."
Italian Elena Gaddoni was unable to follow Engen, but secured the second place ahead of Melanie Spath of Germany. Favorite Petra Henzi said she did not try to race at full pace, but instead approached the day as a training ride.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Sunshine Cup round 1.