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The start of the elite men's race at the opening round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup.
Best roster yet for European cross country opener
The 2012 Cyprus Sunshine Cup will kick off on Sunday in Voroklini. Cross country world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy is the favorite among the men as Olympic champion Sabine Spitz and marathon world champion Annika Langvad are among the women. Racers from 24 different nations will be attending, including six ranked in the top 10 of the world.
"I am trying to get in high intensity training to get back into race mode again," said Spitz. "But at the same time, I am trying to grab world ranking points as much as possible to improve my position. Like the other top riders, she is preparing for the World Cup opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in mid-March.
With it being an Olympic year, the race is drawing some of its best competition yet, especially in the elite women's category.
Langvad (Fujibikes Rockets), the Voroklini winner in 2010 and 2011, and Spitz (Haibike) top the favorites list, but they'll have to watch out for Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon). It will be the first time the Russian is racing in Cyprus in about 10 years, and she's already test ridden the 6km course with other riders from her country.
Tanja Zakelj (Salcano Factory Team), bronze medalist at European championships in 2011 and former U23 world champion from Slovenia, is also on the list, along with her compatriot Blaza Klemencic (Felt Oetztal X-Bionic), 2010 U23 world champion Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory Racing) and Engen's teammate Katrin Leumann, the 2010 European champion.
Kulhavy meets with Marotte, Fumic and Litscher
Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) started his impressive 2011 season in Cyprus, and he intends to do the same in 2012. It will be the fifth year that the Czech rider has kicked off his season on the island. He has never won in Voroklini, but that could change on Sunday. He is the favorite but will face some tough challengers.
German Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory Racing) is one of them, even if he normally needs some races to step up to the top level. Frenchman Maxime Marotte (BH-Suntour/Peisey-Vallandry), who finished fifth in the 2011 World Cup, is another rider who could fight for the podium.
U23 world champion Thomas Litscher (Felt-Oetztal X-Bionic) is expected in the front group along with his teammate Karl Markt, who is looking to defend his title here.
Others to watch are Fabian Giger, Henk-Jaap Moorlag and Emil Lindgren (all Rabobank-Giant); Wolfram Kurschat and Alban Lakata (Topeak-Ergon); Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Elettroveneta Corratec); Liam Killeen (Giant Factory Racing) and Kevin van Hoovels (Versluys-Evenza).
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup.