Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa and Karl Markt both won in dominant style at Round 2 of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, held today on the XCO course in Amathous.
Amathous is the perfect Cypriot setting: an ancient archaeological town beside the Mediterranean Sea. And today the ancient Gods blessed us not only with a beautiful setting, but wonderful weather as well.
Under a strong Cypriot sun, the Elite Women faced a start loop and four laps of this steep and technical 4.7km loop. It is a course that gives away very little; the loose rocky ground and sharp ascents make it a physical track with plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.
There was, however, no mistaking the strongest rider of the day. Gunn Rita took the lead shortly after the field completed the start loop, and from there she went on to establish a lead of up to 45 seconds.
In pursuit was the Belgian Champion, Githa Michiels. Following her fifth place at the Afxentia Stage Race, Michiels in working towards some good form. She is keen not to peak to early this season, but at the finish she was very positive about her race and the sensations:
“I felt really good and strong actually. My engine feels bigger; this can only be a good thing for later in the season”.
Behind Michiels was the young Dane, Malene Degn. Racing for the first time since the World Championships in Cairns, Degn was unsure of how the race would go, but was ultimately very happy with this test of form.
“My team mate Barbara Benko came close in the end, but she wasn’t feeling too good today so that was lucky for me! Honestly, I did not know what to expect from racing but I knew my shape was good and I’m working really hard toward the World Cup in South Africa. I am super happy, surprised and proud to be standing next to these girls [on the podium]. My winter training has gone really well. Hard work doesn’t always show in the races, but today it did and it’s nice”.
Dahle-Flesjaa was also uncertain how the race would go for her, having suffered with illness in the past days. After dominating the race, she explained that a forced rest was not a bad thing:
“Lying in bed is a good recipe! I sometime train too much; I love training, I don’t like resting. Sometimes you are forced to rest and when you’re on the up [in terms of improving form and fitness] it ends up that you feel quite okay. I wasn’t flying but I was still strong. I recovered well after the descents and found my flow.”
Indeed, Dahle-Flesjaa looked very much in control of the race and the course. After four laps she took victory by 35 seconds form Michiels. Degn was third a further two minutes back.
With her win today, Dahle-Flesjaa takes the overall Cyprus Sunshine Cup title, an orange jersey that she will surely treasure after such an enjoyable stay here in Cyprus over the past weeks. This will be Dahle Flesjaa’s final Sunshine Cup as a professional, and we are hugely humbled to have had her race here over the years.
Second on the day was also second overall. Michiels, like Dahle Flesjaa, has spent a long time on Cyprus preparing for the season and we are delighted that this had paid off with two great races for her.
Barbara Benko secured the 3rd place overall with her 4th place finish today in Amathous.
Unfortunately, one of the pre-race favourites, Yana Belomoina, did not take the start today. She was, as always, eager to race, but her body was not yet ready.
ELITE MEN: Markt escaped in the middle of the race
The Elite men’s field gave us some closer racing, but once again there was a clear winner.
Karl Markt led from early on but he had to shake off the likes of Jan Skarnitzl, Gregor Raggl and Daniel Federspiel before he could claim victory.
A long line of riders streamed through the finish line after the start loop, with a fierce fight for positions into the singletrack. Already Markt looked the strongest, riding his competitors off his wheel and opening up a small gap on the asphalt section.
He continued to push the pace at the front of the race, and it was only Raggl and Skarnitzl who could follow. Forgoing mechanical or mishap, this trio soon became the clear podium contenders.
Markt kept up the high pace and by lap three Skarnitzl and Raggl could no longer hold the wheel. At the finish, both riders were full of praise for the winner who was simply too fast for them today. Skarnitzl has had some sickness since Afxentia, and Raggl conceded that he always struggles for speed in the early races, and so both riders dropped back and consolidated their 2nd and 3rdpositions respectively.
“I tried to get back to him, but today Charley was much stronger than me. I tried the first three laps to ride with him but I was all the time on the edge”
It was a similar story from Raggl:
“It was a fast start and I tried to follow Charley the first two laps but had problems to keep his pace on the last part of the main climb. I tried to close in lap 3 but the pace was too fast for me and I decided to go my own speed.”
After a start loop and five laps of racing, Markt took a convincing win, over a minute ahead of Skarntizl in 2nd. Raggl was a further eight seconds back.
With 70 points from Afxentia and 100 points for the win today, Markt claimed the overall Cyprus Sunshine Cup victory, just as he did back in 2011.
In second place overall is his team mate and Austrian compatriot, Gregor Raggl.
With a 5th place today and 50 points from Afxentia, Swede Michael Olsson takes the third place overall.
And so the Cyprus Sunshine Cup is finished for another year. As the final podium presentations came to an end, Race Director, Mike Hadjioannou, reflected on this year’s edition:
“It was a pretty good edition of the Sunshine Cup. Not only concerning the organisation but also because we got really good feedback from the riders. The riders have found the people on Cyprus really nice and helpful and have really enjoyed their stay here. It’s good to see that riders are now staying for longer and using Cyprus as a training destination.”
For many of the riders who raced here in Cyprus, the focus is now firmly on the opening World Cup in Stellenbosch next weekend. For others it was simply a great race to come and experience. For Anna van der Breggen, who won the Afxentia race, it was the perfect preparation for the Women’s World Tour race, the Strade Bianche, which we are delighted to say that she won today.
In any case, it has been a brilliant start to the season.
We leave the final word to the legend that is Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa:
“It was a fantastic race. I’m so happy to be here. It was definitely the right thing to come here and enjoy the sun and the temperature and the nice setting and atmosphere. It’s really a beautiful place for racing.”
All details and results about the Cyprus Sunshine Cup can be found at www.activatecyprus.com/en/events/sunshinecup