Mountain Bike campaign 2016 is still in the final weeks, but on Cyprus the preparations of the 2017 edition of the Sunshine Cup are already started. The dates are fixed on 23-26 of February for the Afxentia stage race and March 5 for Amathous. Compared to this year’s edition the series on the Mediterranean island gets some attractive changes, for pros and amateur riders as well.
20 years after the very first edition of Afxentia the organizers from Bikin’ Cyprus Management are still keen to improve the well known stage race, which again will provide a lot of world ranking points, being registered in the HC category.
The date for the Afxentia is the traditional last weekend of February and it stays a four days format. But for the time trial at the opening day Bikin’Cyprus plans to extend the time trial and create a kind of Enduro style.
The start in Lefkara is planned to take place at the top of the hill overlooking Lefkara, right at the chapel, where the prior course passed by.
The idea is to lead it again through the little streets in Lefkara, but then entering an off road downhill, finishing in Skarinou, about 500 altitude meters lower.
Further more stage 2 and 3 are undergoing some changes. “We already are well known as a destination for professionals, but Cyprus in general and the Afxentia in special are also attractive for amateur riders”, Mike Hadjioannou explains the goal. The CEO, his company and also the Cyprus Cycling Federation are still owning passionate commitment for the series, motivated to present the islands beauties to mountain bikers from all over the world.
On March 5, one very special attraction will be offered by the race course in Amathous/Agios Tychon. The venue at the sea side between the ancient ruins will return into the 2017 Cyprus Sunshine Cup. The lap is quite demanding, physically and technically, but most of the riders likes it. The environment compensates the pain in the legs.
February 23 to 26: Afxentia stage race (SHC)
March 5: Amathous (C1)
Maxime Marotte and Sabine Spitz took the second and final round of Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2016. The French rider and his compatriot Jordan Sarrou in Voroklini, Cyprus, celebrated a double win in front of Czech Ondrej Cink. In the women’s race it was the expected duel between Sabine Spitz and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa. The German won in front of the Norwegian, while Yana Belomoina completed the prominent podium as third. Dahle-Flesjaa and Marotte took the Sunshine Cup overall.
At the beginning of the men’s race a four-man group with Maxime Marotte, Jordan Sarrou (both BH Sr Suntour-KMC), Ondrej Cink (Multivan-Merida) and Nicola Rohrbach (goldwurst-power/Felt) was leading the race, while Jan Skarnitzl (Cze, Sram Mitas Trek) and Hungarian Zsolt Juhasz were the chasers. Together they four entered lap four of six, but then Nicola Rohrbach punctured and felt back into ninth position.
At the end of this lap, Marotte and Sarrou escaped from Cink, using team work to open the gap. But Sarrou then in the long uphill to the top was also not more able to follow the massive attack of his team mate and Marotte was cleared. He celebrated his very first victory in the Cyprus Sunshine Cup.
“I felt good all the race. But I knew, it could be important to wait a little bit, because of the wind in the flat sections. So, in the middle of the race, when everybody was a bit in the red zone, we tried to get in front together. Finally I was in a bit better condition. It was a perfect day for me and also for the team”, Maxime Marotte told. “I am really happy about these two weeks. I came here to do top five or ten and now I have a win.”
Jordan Sarrou was also glad about his second place. “I was in good shape today. At the beginning we were working together very well. In the last lap Maxime was stronger than me and I took my own pace. I am very happy to finish these two weeks with a second place”, the French man said. He was 53 seconds back.
Ondrej Cink secured the third position, 2:22 back. At the Afxentia Cink still suffered from a sickness, in Voroklini the worlds bronze medallist was able to be up in the front. “I am happy today, it was much better than the week before. I felt more power, but I need more time”, the Czech commented.
Maxime Marotte took the orange Cyprus Sunshine Cup winners jersey in front of Jordan Sarrou and Nicola Rohrbach.
Meanwhile bad news arrived from the Czech team camp. Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy was at the hospital and an x-ray found out, that he has broken his wrist twice.
Kulhavy was in the front group, when in second lap, during a downhill he got some problems with his chain. He had to stop to get the problem fixed. Still in the downhill section, he tried to get back on the course. He lost the balance, when trying to get in position and felt down. Not spectacular, but enough to break the bones.
In women’s competition, it was the expected duel between the two experienced mountain bike legends Sabine Spitz and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa.
During the first complete lap, a four ladies leading group was build. Sabine Spitz, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan-Merida), Ekaterina Anoshina from Russia and Yana Belomoina (CST Superior Brentjens) from Ukraine together entered the second lap. Then Belomoina started to suffer and lost contact.
It was in lap two, when Sabine Spitz was able to get away for the first time. The three times Olympic medallist was stronger in the uphill parts, but Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa was able to catch her again, followed by Ekaterina Anoshina.
In the following uphill, Spitz again took 15 seconds from her chasers and this was a kind of decision. Until the end of lap four, Spitz increased her lead up to 40 seconds.
“I then took it a bit easier to keep the risk down, because I wanted to have the points. Gunn-Rita closed a bit in the downhill, so I speeded up again in the last few kilometres”, Spitz gave an inside view in her last lap.
She secured her second season victory after a stage win at the Afxentia stage race. “The start loop was painful, I did not feet really fresh after training a lot. Therefore I was wondering if I could push until the finish. I am really happy about my shape and the two weeks on Cyprus.” And regarding the highlight of this year: “If you see the Voroklini track in parts, you can find similar sections in Rio’s Olympic course. That suits me”
Her main contender Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa confessed, that she was not able to follow Spitz in the climbs. “I had to risk a lot in the downhill. But it’s good training, if you have to go for your limit”, the Norwegian told. “Every time when it goes up, I went backwards. I did a lot of training this week and so I had a heavy feeling. But most important thing is, that I was in the race. I am happy, the two weeks were much better than expected.” She was 21 seconds off.
Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa took the overall of the Cyprus Sunshine-Cup. “I am proud of it. I think my little boy will like the orange colour of the jersey”, the Mom of a seven years old child was laughing. Second place went to Sabine Spitz, third place to Githa Michiels (Versluys), who ended up on fifth on that sunny day at Voroklini.
In the fight for third place on the podium, Yana Belomoina caught back and passed Ekaterina Anoshina in the very last lap. The worlds bronze medallist was happy, after suffering from pain caused by a crash at the Afxentia.
“I am happy about my race today. The first half of the race, I didn’t feel very well, but then it went better.
She finished third, 49 seconds back.
After two rounds and five days of racing, the organizers found a very positive conclusion. Mike Hadjioannou from organizing Bikin’ Cyprus Event Management:
“I think it was the best edition of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup we ever had. The big number of world class athletes was great, their feedback was amazing and the organization went very well.”
The Cyprus Sunshine Cup becomes more and more a kind of must-do for a lot of the ambitious riders. They join the Cup year by year.
But also the comments of the amateur and fun riders were absolutely positive. “This is a quality of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup we want to build on for the future. We already have a really good race for professionals but we also want to improve for fun riders. The combination of races, training on life style on the island could attract a lot more mountain biker”, Hadjioannou was looking into the future.
Says Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa:
Result is not important, but I love winning
One week after the exciting Afxentia stage race, the second and final round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup takes place in Voroklini. Four Olympic gold medalists on Sunday, 6 of March, are in game. Afxentia overall winner Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa and Sabine Spitz are leading women’s bunch and Jaroslav Kulhavy could take a kind of revenge after having bad luck in Sundays Afxentia stage. The schedule for the races was changed.
After one year break, the traditional course in Voroklini is back in the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. On the six kilometer lap two years ago 2004 Olympic champion Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan-Merida) took the third spot on the podium (behind Jolanda Neff and Blaza Klemencic), but the upcoming Sunday, the Norwegian legend of mountain biking should be the first name to mention, when it comes to the favorites in women’s race.
"I hope I have good day. It’s still training. Of course racing is an important part of all the training. Getting a good feeling, is the most important thing on Sunday", Dahle-Flesjaa explains, " the result is not." But then she starts laughing. "Of course, I love winning. I probably always do as long as I do this sport. But it’s not the goal."
Not on this Sunday in Voroklini. Dahle-Flesjaa feels quite good recovered from four days racing Afxentia. "The legs were not super today, but much better than yesterday. That means a good recovery. There were a lot of positive things out of this stage race."
There are some other ladies, who could interfere. First of all it’s Sabine Spitz. The Bejing Olympic champion showed an impressive shape at the Afxentia. Maybe she never was that strong in this early part of the season than this year. "We changed some things in the preparation and it’s nice to realize that it worked out very well", says Spitz, who finished fourth at the Afxentia after puncturing on second stage.
"My goal is to get as much points as possible and to have another good race", the 44 years old German says.
Githa Michiels (Versluys) took third position at Afxentia – without finishing on the podium on the stages. "I hope, I am able to catch up on this in Voroklini", the Belgian national champ says while smiling. "But I am pretty happy with my shape in every case."
Yana Belomoina (CST Superior Brentjens) visited the hospital on Monday to check her shoulder. After a crash in training camp in Spain, she again went down on third stage and again on the same part of the body. Finally the x-ray brought an all-clear signal. Nothing is broken, only the muscles are bruised.
So the bronze medalist of the worlds 2015 is ready to race and compete for a podium.
Further more there are Eliminator world champion Linda Indergand (Focus XC) and former world cup overall winner Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools), who are on the watch list.
London Olympic gold medalist Julie Bresset (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC) should be healthy again. She is also one to pay attention for.
Ondrej Cink (Multivan-Merida) was the last time winner of the Voroklini race. In 2014 he beat his compatriot Jan Skarnitzl (Sram Mitas Trek) and Swiss Thomas Litscher.
Cink was also sick, but he reports healthiness again. "I did some recovery training after the Afxentia. On Thursday I will try on the course some pushing again. I have to have the intensity now. We will see how it goes on Sunday", says the worlds bronze medalist from Czech Republic.
His team mate Thomas Litscher still feels not completely fit. "I hope the sun on Cyprus turn the things around. That’s why I extended my stay on the island", the u23 world champion of 2011 tells.
Jaroslav Kulhavy took the victory in Voroklini three years ago. The London Olympic champion was set back in his offence at last stage of Afxentia, when he punctured. Maybe it’s time to take a revenge on Sunday, but Kulhavy plays it down a bit. "We will see. The shape is getting better and better, but I would be happy to find myself in the top five", the 31 years old Czech says.
Regarding what happened in the cross country race at Mantra tou Kampiou, French rider Maxime Marotte (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC) has to recognized as top favorite for Voroklini. He was second in the overall and second on the last stage.
"The season started better than expected. I am looking forward to the next step", comments Marotte.
His team mate Jordan Sarrou also improved during the four Afxentia stages.
We should also mention Jan Skarnitzl and the Belgian Sebastian Carabin (Merida-Wallonie) and not to forget Nicola Rohrbach (goldwurst-power/Felt). The Swiss was not too far away from the top during Afxentia and on the power course at Voroklini he should be able to be up with the best.
The organization in agreement with the chief commissaire decided to change Sunday’s schedule. The women will have an own race. The new schedule:
The new schedule
Time to sum up the 20th edition of the Afxentia stage race. More than 180 mountain biker out of 27 different countries were enjoying four days of racing and the feedback they provided was quite overwhelming. Regardless if pro, junior, masters or amateur and fun rider, they loved what they experienced during this spring classic.
Since founded in 1997, the Afxentia stage race developed year by year. In small but continuous steps the format developed to what it is today: a classy event for people, who are passionate for mountain biking, people who loves the nature, scenic landscape and are hungry on flying through amazing trails.
Of course you can find a lot of these people in between the professional riders. How could you better describe, what the Afxentia means to this part of the participants as with the words of the overall winner Fabian Giger. “Sunday morning by looking on my number plate, I realized again, that it is the jubilee edition and I thought, it would be cool then to take this victory.” The Swiss made it and is now proud to be listed on 20th position in the palmares of this classic event.
Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa, every day noted, how much she enjoys the trails and the whole atmosphere, cyclo cross hero Mathieu van der Poel posted a very excited comment on Twitter to his 27800 follower: “The most beautiful 2 hours I've ever spend on a bike so far (and the hardest).In love with Cyprus and the mtb sport!”
These are only some of the huge compliments the island and especially the Afxentia got during these days.
But not only the professional mountain bikers were happy. Kenneth Flesjaa, husband and coach of Gunn-Rita did the Afxentia for the first time. The original reason was a bet with his wife, but he didn’t regret, even if she was faster than him. “Really great”, he said. “I enjoyed the tracks a lot. Cyprus is a lovely place for mountain biker and the people are so friendly. We will come back, for sure.” Flesjaa won the masters category 1.
And Bart Brentjens, the 47 years old Olympic champion of 1996? The Dutch won the masters category 2. If he wouldn’t like it, he would not return year after year.
Phillip Pearce for the first time entered Cyprus. The British rider, ended up on 40th position in the elite’s category. He showed himself impressed. “I did not know Cyprus, but it was amazing. When I get home, I will tell my friends, that this is the perfect destination for mountain bikers.”
For juniors, of course, it’s hard to go through these four days. But even they enjoyed it a lot. The junior men’s winner Marc Bouwmeester was happy and second Tim Meier from Germany was talking about “a great experience to ride these trails within all these top riders”.
Second placed junior women Lara Krähemann from Switzerland said: “It was a very cool experience.” Same was told by the winner Adela Safarova from Czech Republic.
Most of the riders are enjoying the mix of racing and training. For the amateurs additional enjoying food and culture of the island.
Also from an “official” side, there was an interesting comment. Nick Floros from South Africa was the UCI Chief Commissaire at the Afxentia. He also is a expert in trail building, and the designer of the Rio 2016 olympic mtb course.
“The island has huge potential for mountain biking. The opportunities are really great”, Floros pointed out.
“To get all these comments is overwhelming and pure motivation as well”, says Mike Hadjioannou, CEO of organizing agency Bikin’ Cyprus. “This shows to me and my team, that we should continue to go step by step further. Our goal is to attract more and more amateur and fun riders to Cyprus. For racing, but also for training and enjoying, what the island offers in atmosphere and culture.”
Upcoming Sunday round 2 in Voroklini will close the Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2016. Again a lot of world class riders are supposed to fight for the victory and for the points.
A perfect and exciting day of racing closed the 20th edition of the Afxentia stage race at Mantra tou Kampiou picnic place. Fabian Giger (Sui) and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Nor) are the winner of the first round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. Dahle-Flesjaa won the final stage in front of Sabine Spitz and Elisabeth Brandau (both Ger), while Marco Fontana scored the second Italian stage win, beating French Maxime Marotte and Mathieu van der Poel (Ned).
For the men it was an exciting last stage at the Macheras Mountains. First “big thing”, that happened, was the Italian Luca Braidot breaking his chain in second of six laps. He was in second position in overall, only 37 seconds behind Fabian Giger (Kross Racing).
The try of Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) to go for a stage win, failed, when he flatted in third lap and had to change his wheel.
Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon), former cyclo cross world champion, had bad luck, when he in the first lap was stopped by a rider in front of him and felt far back in second lap.
In lap four Maxime Marotte (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC) and Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing) took some seconds advantage from van der Poel and Fabian Giger, who was in first looking for his overall lead.
“It’s not so easy to ride for the stage and secure the overall in the same time. I did not want to take a risk”, Giger confessed. “The first two laps everything was fine, but then I felt a bit weak.”
Mathieu van der Poel had to pay for his effort to get back in the leading group. “This cost me a lot of power. So I was not able to follow Marco and Maxime”, van der Poel explained.
Fontana makes a mistake, Marotte is fighting hard
The gap for one lap was only about 10, 15 seconds, but when Marco Fontana attacked to leave Maxime Marotte, it was growing fast. “I attacked in a descent, got some seconds and in the next downhill I was going really fast and thought, now the race is over. But I made big mistake and went into the safety net. I lost some quite a few meters and he came back. But I was fighting and fighting and finally I got it”, Fontana told about his battle with Marotte.
“Today I had good legs. I was riding pretty smooth. I realized, I could win from the half way of the race. But Maxime was very strong. He can suffer that guy”, Marco Fontana said and laughed.
“I am stoked, yeah, a good start into the season.”
Commented Marotte: “Marco was more punchy than me. When he attacked, I could not follow. It was just to try to keep the distance. Till the end, I told myself, do not explode, because of the overall. Because van der Poel and Marco was not far behind me. I pushed and pushed. I think it was a good day for me. Last year it was the opposite.”
Indeed, he crossed the finish line 3 seconds behind Fontana (1:38:24) and saved 2 in the overall classification.
Giger: Proud to win the 20th edition
Third place went to Mathieu van der Poel (+0:48) The Dutch cyclo cross specialist did a phenomenal debut into the cross country scene. “Cross country suits me more than these point to point races. I am very satisfied. Before the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, I rode only two times on my mountain bike. So I think, there are a lot of things, I can improve”, says van der Poel. He missed the overall top three only by 17 seconds.
Fabian Giger secured his overall lead as fourth (+0:53) and took the Afxentia overall for the second time. “I am very, very happy to take it for a second time. Today in the morning, I recognized on my number plate that it’s the 20th edition of the Afxentia and I am proud to win it. Cool to start into the season like this”, the Swiss rider said. He won the Afxentia already in 2014.
Before the start of the women, everything seems to prepared for the overall victory of Adelheid Morath (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC). The German had a gap of 2:55 minutes to Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan-Merida). But already the start loop showed, that it could get a hard day for Morath.
The 31 years old suffered from the injury, she got by a crash on stage two. After one lap, she already was one minute back of the leading two ladies. Elisabeth Brandau was going for another stage win, after loosing the overall by a flat tire on stage 3. And Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa was looking for her chance to bridge the gap to Morath.
“Of course, I went full gaz. I knew, Adelheid had some hard days and I was always informed about my time difference during the race. Of course, three minutes are a big gap, but I felt better day by day and on this course with the cool downhills, you can get a lot of time”, the 43 years old Norwegian told.
She increased the gap, lap by lap and after entering the fifth and final 5,9 kilometre for the first time, she overtook Morath virtually. The Yellow Jersey was sitting around tenth place, catched back some positions to end up on seventh place, but the 3:34 minutes distance to Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (1:37:05) were too much.
“I am very happy with this win. To take one stage was my hope before, but to get the overall feels great”, the 43 years old Olympic champion of 2004 said.
Morath looses yellow, but shows herself not unhappy
Adelheid Morath was looking not unhappy, when she reached the finish line.
“I already had my problems yesterday with my hip. Today on the asphalt part, I could not give any pressure on the pedal. I never got a shadow of another rider. I had to fight hard, but I am mega happy about my result. Before the start of the Afxentia, I never expected that”, Morath explained. “Of course, it’s a pity, if you loose the leaders jersey and at least your body feels good. Anyway, I made the best out of it”, she added.
In the final stage her two compatriots Sabine Spitz and Elisabeth Brandau (Radon-EBE Racing) took the second and third spot on the podium. Elisabeth Brandau lost the contact to Dahle-Flesjaa in the downhill. “It’s my huge weakness”, Brandau confessed later. “Since I had a break after the birth of my son eleven months ago, I am still not able to compete with the other girls in the downhill. I am not able to open the brake”, she explained.
Spitz seems to be prepared for the Cape Epic
She was caught by Sabine Spitz in pre last lap and could not hold the Olympic champion of 2008. “I expected that Gunn-Rita will go for it today. But when the both left the group, I was not in the position to follow. Later I tried to push a little bit and was able to catch Lisa”, Spitz said.
First she left Swiss Linda Indergand (Focus XC) and Eva Lechner (Luna Pro Team) behind and then she reached Elisabeth Brandau to leave the winner of the first two stages in the downhill behind.
“I am looking very positive on these four days. The feeling was quite good and now I am looking forward to race the Cape Epic”, Spitz said.
Brandau missed the second position by nine seconds, but made it from 11 to six in the overall.
“Mentally it was difficult to realize that Gunn-Rita takes so much time in the downhills. That’s why I felt a bit in hole in the middle of the race, but at the end I catched back”, the German explained. So she could left Githa Michiels (Versluys), who already closed the gap to her.
Michiels takes no risk and ends up on three
The Belgian on her side defended her third place in the overall, after steady four days, without a stage podium.
“I am really happy about this third place. I felt strong, but suffered from back pain every day. It’s great to race with this great women and I really like it here. I have really fun on the courses. Today I did not want to risk, but towards the end, I felt so good, that I pushed more”, Michiels was telling.