World number one, Yana Belomoina, heads the starting list of the second round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup in Amathous, but the Ukrainian faces strong competition. In the men's race, the Austrian Karl Markt, the Czech Jan Skarnitzl and the Greek Periklis Ilias are the favourites among riders from 15 different nations.
Yana Belomoina had to give up her place on the start in the first round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup - the Afxentia stage race - due to an infection. But now, “I’m ready”, says the overall World Cup winner from the Dutch team CST Sandd American Eagle.
In 2017 Belomoina won the race between the ancient ruins of Amathous, but is not concentrating too much on repeating this. "I feel better now, but I do not have any special preparation. It's early in the season and I have to be top throughout the year”, she explained. "Amathous is a nice but physically challenging course."
Challenging, and also very special. Nowhere else in the world is a race ridden by the sea and between ruins which witnessed ancient history. However, the athletes can only take the time during their training for the great views, because the 4.72 kilometre-long course is not technically easy.
The biggest competition for Yana Belomoina comes from Norway. Like the Eastern European, Scandinavian Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Merida Gunn Rita) was training on the Mediterranean island before the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. Unfortunately Dahle Flesjaa - the most successful mountain biker ever - has suffered from an infection in the past days leaving her unsure how she will feel come the race on Saturday.
Another possible winner is Githa Michiels (Versluys). The Belgian Champion won the overall Sunshine Cup series in 2017 and was fifth overall at Afxentia last weekend.
Hungary's Barbara Benko (Ghost Factory Racing) could also play a good role in Amathous. So too her teammate, Dane Malene Degn, although she does not know how she will perform, this being her first cross-country race of the season.
Cypriot rider, Antri Christoforou (KMEaters), will take confidence from a home race, but the technical nature of the track does not particularly suit her strengths. She will try to stay with the front group for as long as she can and see what is possible.
Men: Markt expects battle with Skarnitzl
Taking the final cross-country race of the Afxentia Stage Race as a benchmark, you can not count out the Austrian Karl Markt (Möbel Märki) for victory in Amathous. He was fifth in Mantra tou Kampiou and second in Amathous last year.
"At the Afxentia I had four very good days, but unfortunately defects on the second and third stage. Otherwise, it would certainly have been better in the overall standings”, explains Markt. "But the form fits and it was good training."
Regarding the second and final round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2018, the Tyrolean says: "For me, it's important to have another cross-country race before the World Cup in South Africa, and last year in Amathous also went well for me. If you look at the weather at home in Austria, then it was a good decision to stay here anyway."
Jan Skarnitzl (Sram Mitas Trek) contested a close duel for second place with Markt in 2017, behind the Frenchman Jordan Sarrou.
Skarnitzl has already won in Amathous in 2013 and he has a total of four stage wins at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup on his record. The Czech must therefore be considered capable of winning on Saturday.
Maybe Markt's teammate, Gregor Raggl, can intervene in the fight for the podium. "I always struggled with the first race", Raggl explained at Afxentia, "but the four days have done me good and if I have recovered well, it should be better in Amathous," added the Austrian national champion.
An important role will certainly be played by Periklis Ilias. The Greek showed himself to be his strongest in a long time at Afxentia. The former Marathon World Champion could make the podium if all the pieces fall into place correctly for him.
Cyprus Sunshine Cup 2nd round in Amathous
Saturday, 3rd March
09:15 Start Cadets, Masters und Amateurs
11:00 Start Elite Women
11:01 Start Junior Women
13:15 Start Elite Men
13:16 Start Junior Men