Others target the Bulls at Cyprus Sunshine Cup opener

The European cross country season will kick off Sunday with the opening round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup from Tochni to Kalavasos. In men's race, four Team Bulls riders will be hunting for the win while defending champion Petra Henzi is the favorite in the women's category.

Returning Bulls' racers Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm and their new teammates Thomas Dietsch and Tim Böhme will have the numbers to play multiple cards as part of a master strategy. It could be difficult for Austrian rider Karl Markt (SRM-Stevens) and his new teammate Daniel Federspiel or ISD Cycling Team's Christoph Bischof and Mirko Pirazzoli to top them. Central Ghost's Nicola Rohrbach and Swedish racers Magnus Darvell, Calle Friberg, Alexander Wetterhall and Mathias Nilsson will also be on hand trying to deliver a surprise to the favorites.

Looking back at last year's opener, Belgian Maike Polspoel finished second an impressive second and Alexandra Engen also did well after Petra Henzi suffered two flat tires in the women's race. Henzi wasn't slowed for long as she took two wins in other Cyprus Sunshine Cup events on her way to claiming the overall. Two other women's favorites in the mix will be 2007 silver medalist from the European Marathon Championships Arielle van Meurs and Githa Michiels.

The course, with 1,787m of climbing, will travel one 48.3km loop and pass the Kalavasos dam and cross the Akapnou forest.

Fredrik Kessiakoff, who recently switched to road racing, won this event last year, beating world marathon champion Roel Paulissen in an exciting finish. Heather Irmiger won the women's event in 2008 after a move on the Kalavasos dam.

Rocky Mountain and Maxxis USA join forces behind new World Cup team

Building on a long-term working relationship, Rocky Mountain Bicycles and Maxxis USA have partnered to field the new Maxxis-Rocky Mountain UCI MTB Trade Team for 2009. The agreement was initially the result of Rocky Mountain looking to fill the hole left by the expected retirement of Marie-Helene Premont, the 2008 UCI World Cup Overall champion and Canadian National champion.

However, Premont's later announcement that she would continue racing in 2009 was music to the ears of both Maxxis and Rocky Mountain. Staying on with Rocky Mountain as part of the new team, she will be joined by cross country racers Geoff Kabush, Lea Davison and Raphael Gagne and by downhillers Sabrina Jonnier, Luke Strobel and Cameon Cole.

"Last year, Rocky Mountain athletes raced more days in more countries than any other professional mountain bike team, winning all along the way," said Peter Vallance of the former Rocky Mountain Team. "This new team takes our racing to yet another level with the new riders, staff and sponsors."

Kabush, coming off a banner year in 2008 in which he won the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) cross country title, reached the World Cup podium several times and captured fourth overall in the series, is optimistic about his new team.

"The new team has really got me excited about the upcoming year. It is a great opportunity for me to work with a company so close to home and everyone at Maxxis is excited about the future of the team," said Kabush. "Rocky Mountain has recently been pushing hard on the development of their race bikes, and I look forward to pushing them hard on the race course. I can't wait to get out racing again in 2009."

New to the team is rising American cross country star, Lea Davison, who was without sponsorship after the Trek / Volkswagen team was disbanded at the end of 2008. Davison had a breakout year in 2008, with stage wins at Sea Otter Classic, several NMBS podiums, and her first World Cup top-10 in Bromont.

Rounding out the cross country team is Canadian Raphael Gagne. Gagne, still an espoir, dominated the Canada Cup series, winning the elite men's overall title. He capped off his season with a seventh at the U23 World Championships.

The Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team signals a return to World Cup downhill competition for Rocky Mountain. "We couldn't be happier to be back in downhill racing. To have a two-time World Champion like Sabrina Jonnier on our bikes is huge. Having Sabrina, Cameron Cole, and Luke Strobel on the Flatline next year means worldwide exposure for the bike and they will certainly be key in product development."

The team will hold its training camp in Bootleg Canyon, Nevada, on March 20-24 and will first be in action at the opening US Cup round in Fontana, California, the following weekend. Premont will begin her season at the opening World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on April 11.

The Maxxis- Rocky Mountain team will focus on the UCI World Cup series, but will also contest the ProXCT, the Canada Cup, and select stage races.

2009 Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Team Roster
Cross country: Geoff Kabush (Can), Marie-Helene Prémont (Can), Lea Davison (USA), Raphael Gagné (Can)
Downhill: Sabrina Jonnier (Fra), Luke Strobel (USA), Cameron Cole (NZl)
Team Manager: Gary Wolff (GBr)
Team Mechanic: Adam McGrath (USA)

Topeak Ergon bolsters its international roster

Team Topeak Ergon added three new riders to its international roster: Austrian Alban Lakata, Brit Sally Bigham and German Robert Mennen.

Lakata, current Austrian National Champion and former winner of the European Marathon Championships, will concentrate on endurance events such as stage, marathon and selected cross-country races. He is expected to race the Cape Epic in South Africa with Rotwild's Thomas Nicke. He'll also target the TransAlp challenge.

British Marathon Champion Bigham will race mostly in the United Kingdom, but will target select international marathon and endurance events. The 23-year-old Mennen will compete in the elite category of German cross country races while dabbling in the international scene.

Returning members of the international team include former World Champion Irina Kalentieva of Russia and Wolfram Kurschat of Germany. German Kim Tofaute and Belgian Benjamin Brochhagen will also race regional and national events.

Topeak previously announced its North American roster.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.