Mountain bikers from 25 countries are heading to Cyprus for the European season-opening Sunshine Cup race series. Round one will kick off this weekend in Voroklini on Sunday. Marathon World Champion Roel Paulissen is among the elite riders expected to attend. 2009 Sunshine Cup winners Alexandra Engen of Sweden and Periklis Ilias of Greece will also be returning to defend their titles.
Paulissen skipped the Sunshine Cup last year, but this time he'll be back with the Belgian national team. Under 23 European Championship winner Fabian Giger (Rabobank-Giant Offroad) will be a rider to watch along with his teammate Emil Lindgren, who won the opening round of the Sunshine Cup last year along with all three stages of the Afxentia.
Last year's Amathous winner, Jaroslav Kulhavy will make the trip from Czech while another rider to watch is Austrian Christoph Soukup, who historically performs well at the Sunshine Cup. Finally, Swiss young rider Thomas Litscher (Focus), who took third at 2009 Under 23 World Championships, may be the surprise of the series.
The Cyprus Cup is not limited to European competitors. Asian champion Kohei Yamamoto will journey over from Japan to test his early season form.
"I'm really happy to have all these interesting names here on Cyprus. But I also like that there are riders from 25 different nations. That's a new record number for Cyprus Sunshine Cup," said Mike Hadjioannou, chief of the organizing committee.
Perhaps the biggest name competing in the women's peloton is Lisi Osl (central Pro Team). The 23-year-old started her breakthrough 2009 season in Cyprus. From there, she went onto three World Cup wins and the overall. She is aiming to repeat her preparations on the Island, along with German teammates Anja Gradl and 2008 junior European champion Mona Eiberweiser.
French woman Julie Krasniak (Team Look), Slovakian Janka Stevkova (CK Epic Dohnany), Hungarian Barbara Benko (Rothaus-Cube) and Ukranian Alla Boyko will be on hand to challenge Osl and Engen.
All the races will be broadcast on Cyprus TV. Stay tuned also to Cyclingnews for coverage.
Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2010
February 21: Voroklini (UCI Cat. 1)
February 26 to 28: Afxentia Macheras Mountains (UCI Cat. 1)
March 7: Amathous-Agios-Tychon (UCI Cat. 1)
March 21: Aphrodite Trophy Mountain Bike Marathon