Three years ago the record World Champion used the Cyprus Sunshine Cup as a preparatory building block for her season for the first time. It certainly seemed to work, as she has since repeated this program on our sunny Mediterranean island each year.
In 2017 Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa will once again be in the village of Tochni and using the Afxentia stage race as preparation for the upcoming season. "I've started my season in Cyprus over the past few years, and it has been great," says Dahle-Flesjaa. “Cyprus is great, a fantastic place to go cycling. A lot of sun, a great event and great food.”
Dahle-Flesjaa, 29-time World Cup winner and Olympic Champion of 2004, will be 44 in February (‘young’, as she would say!), and she still feels fit and motivated enough to keep going. In 2016 she was twice amongst the action at the front of World Cup races, and there is no question that she will try to complete her 30th win this year.
"I'll go through a whole cross-country season," she says, although under what conditions are yet unknown to us. After the end of the Multivan Merida team, with whom she had been with for 15 years, nothing has been announced about a new formation.
"I will race most races together with the Norwegian national team," Dahle-Flesjaa explains. More information can not be given just yet. "When we get to Cyprus, I know more," she adds.
It has been known for some time that the Time Trial at the Road World Championships in Norway is a goal for Dahle-Flesjaa, and perhaps in that, we have some clues towards her season. However, for now, the title defense of the Afxentia stage race is a focus and a challenge that Dahle-Flesjaa looks forward to.
As for those not looking to take the win in Cyprus, Dahle-Flesjaa recommends Cyprus and the Cyprus Sunshine Cup for amateur riders as well. "I am completely convinced of it: the island has everything you need, and not just for mountain bikers, "she said last year.
Together, the German and the Czech have won a total of five Olympic medals. Sabine Spitz is the only lady ever to acquire all three colour medals in the cross-country discipline: Gold (2008), Silver (2012) and Bronze (2004). Jaroslav Kulhavy won Gold in London 2012 and got a silver in August in Rio de Janeiro.
There is nothing as precious as an Olympic medal to be won on our sunny Mediterranean island in 2017, but as regular visitors to Cyprus and the Cyprus Sunshine Cup over the past years, Spitz and Kulhavy have many good memories of the place.
Last year Spitz rode the Cape Epic for the first time and, with the preparation from racing in Cyprus, she did it better than she had hoped. Together with CST Superior Brentjens’ Ukranian Champion, Yana Belomoina, she finished second in South Africa.
At 45, Spitz remains very ambitious and has thus extended her cross-country career by another year. She wants to win at the Cape Epic and will once again use the Afxentia stage race for preparation.
Unfortunately Kulhavy flew home from Cyprus last year with a sense of disappointment after a rather unspectacular fall resulted in a broken hand. However, he has not let this damage his affections for Cyprus where he has often successfully prepared for the season at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. "I'm looking forward to Cyprus and hope this time without injury," he said on Twitter.
This is of particular importance in 2017 as Kulhavy, like Spitz, wishes to use the Afxentia stage race to prepare for the Cape Epic. Together with his Specialized colleague, Christoph Sauser, the goal is nothing other than his third victory.
Where the professionals race, the amateur and sportive riders can follow! Whether as preparation for the Cape Epic or another season goal or simply to test yourself over four days of competition, the Cyprus Sunshine Cup offers something for every racer on the great trails of this beautiful island.
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