After three days of racing, Annika Langvad and Howard Grotts were strongest on the classic cross-country course at Mantra tou Kampiou. Anna van der Breggen and Lars Forster both finished fourth but took the overall General Classification honours.
The Stage 4 track is a sting in the tail of a tough four days of racing, with sharp climbs and technical descents offering the riders a true XCO test. Compensation came in the form of long awaited sunshine and the satisfaction of an early-season race in the books.
ELITE WOMEN: Van der Breggen Follows Vos
Following her dominant performance on yesterday’s stage, Annika Langvad was once again the supreme rider, racing to a three-minute lead over a start loop and three laps.
From the moment the gun went at the start, her wheel was in front. General Classification leader, Anna van der Breggen, and second-placed Erin Huck were just a few meters adrift in the early stages, but the gap would soon grow. Behind them, the young duo of Anne Tauber and Sina Frei were looking strong.
Van der Breggen’s Yellow Jersey defence was not only threatened by an on-form Langvad, but also a nasty crash in the start loop which saw significant damage to her helmet (and her confidence). At the finish she explained that her foot had unexplainably come unclipped, and that had left her more inclined to caution as the race unfolded.
Despite commenting after the race that her legs were not as fresh as the past two days, Langvad was simply in a class of her own. She looked strong and composed on every section of each lap, enjoying the technical riding and the feeling of a “high basic speed”.
Huck, who had performed strongly in the previous two stages, was once again leading the chase. Aware that Langvad would pass her in the overall classification, she was more concentrated on the race behind her than the leader ahead.
Under 23 World Champion, Frei, was her main threat, but it was Tauber who was making moves today. The Dutch Champion had a more reserved Stage 2 and Stage 3, still transitioning from her winter of ice speed skating, and also leaving something in reserve for today’s XCO showdown.
“Explosive races are more my style”, she said afterwards, “and the technical parts suit me”.
Langvad took the honours, Huck held second and Tauber finished on a high with third place.
Despite Van der Breggen’s crash, she put in a great performance on this difficult XCO course, and with fourth place on the day managed to hold onto her overall lead and claim victory in the Afxentia Stage Race. Same has done country mate Marianne Vos in 2013.
Two incredibly strong performances on Stage 3 and 4 allowed Langvad to recover from 34th position after Stage 1 to second position overall. With, “four very good days for me”, Huck finish third overall.
Van der Breggen will begin her road racing season next week. She has no plans yet to return to mountain biking, but she has nonetheless very much enjoyed her time on Cyprus and the camaraderie of the mountain bike community.
ELITE MEN: Forster Controlling
It was a thrilling finish to four days of great racing here on Cyprus. With the Elite Men’s overall podium separated by just 44 seconds, there was no time for mistakes, mechanicals or heavy legs.
It seemed that the Yellow Jersey holder, Lars Forster, preferred to follow rather than lead today, so the young Dane, Sebastain Fini Carstensen, took on the race lead from the outset. Fini Carstensen has shown great attacking spirit over the last days and, along with fine form, has been rewarded with podium positions and a chance of overall victory. Today was no different.
Forster and Howard Grotts were the only riders who could follow the Dane’s wheel.
Jaroslav Kulhavy, who sat in fourth overall after his win yesterday, was back in seventh on lap 1. The top-end power of the XCO race was always going to be a test for the Czech, for whom illness has set back his training over the first part of the year.
Fini Carstensen, Grotts and Forster exchanged the lead over the following laps, with Grotts having the advantage on the climbs and Forster gaining time on the descents.
Grotts made a bid for solo victory on the penultimate lap, Fini Carstensen remained consistent and Forster managed to claw back time lost. The battle for the overall was intrinsically linked to the fight for victory today. These three riders would make the General Classification podium, but in which order?
Meanwhile, Titouan Carod was gradually making his way through the pack and up towards the leading trio. The previous stages have been unexceptional for Carod, but today’s shorter format was suiting him much better and he was able to join the lead group just in time for the finish.
It was to be a four-way battle for stage honours.
Grotts had the firepower to take the victory, Carod could sprint for second and Fini Carstensen held off Forster to claim third.
It was no big loss for Forster; fourth on the day but a fine win in the General Classification.
Grotts was second overall and Fini Carstensen leap-frogged Kulhavy to take third.
What a way to sign off a brilliant Afxentia race!