The 23rd edition of the Afxentia Stage Race is history. Annika Langvad from Denmark took the coveted title for the fourth time in her career, whilst the Czech Republic’s Jan Skarnitzl won his premiere title. The final cross-country races in Mantra tou Kampiou were exciting, but brought no change in the overall standings.
The gaps at the front end of the race remained small, making for an exciting finale to the Afxentia stage race; fifth placed Georg Egger (Lexware Mountain Bike Team) was only 1:31 minutes behind after five laps of this infamously tough XCO course.
Yellow jersey wearer, Jan Skarnitzl (Mitas Mercedes-Benz Praha Trek), tried to control the action and ultimately it worked out well for him. "It was really a great race. Up front were all the favourites and every five minutes there was an attack that I had to counter”, said Skarnitzl.
In the second lap he had some brief trouble when Bartlomeij Wawak (Volkswagen Samochody) and Ondrej Cink (Kross Racing Team) attacked and he had to close a ten second gap. "Otherwise I could control it. I'm happy about my first win at Afxentia", Skarnitzl said with a grin. He has finished third four times before at this SHC race, but never the win. "That gives confidence for the season”, said Skarnitzl.
Skarnitzl’s Czech compatriot, Ondrej Cink (Kross Racing), might have been the strongest on the final day, but when he came to the top of the singletrack with one kilometre to go he was not carrying enough speed. "I made a mistake. When Wawak attacked Karl Markt was in front of me and I could not react immediately”, Cink said.
Although he rode on the rear wheel of Wawak, there was no chance to come around the Pole, and Wawak was able to celebrate his second stage victory this year. For him, this was a small revenge after he lost his chance on Saturday due to a puncture with three kilometres to the finish.
"I'm happy that I could defend my second place in the overall standings and really happy with the result. It was not that easy today”, Wawak commented after his win in 1:24:52.
Cink crossed the line just behind him, and said at the finish:
"I focused on this cross-country stage and felt very strong today. I am very satisfied with my shape.”
Skarnitzl crossed the finish line in third, seven seconds back, just ahead of Karl Markt (Möbel Märki).
Third place in the overall standings went to Dutchman David Nordemann (CST Sandd Bafang). Riding throughout the race in the front group, Nordemann finished sixth, 15 seconds back, defending his place on the overall podium.
"When I came here and saw the start list, I thought: it's going to be difficult to repeat the fourth place finish of 2018. Now I'm third and it feels really good”, said Nordemann. “My legs weren’t great today but I used the downhills to close the gaps”, added the U23 World Championship bronze medallist.
Ladies: Annika Langvad attacks and rides full throttle to victory
The Elite Women’s general classification was very close at the start of the day, especially between rank one (Langvad) and two (van der Breggen), as well as between three (Pasteiner) and four (Frei). However, as the race unfolded it soon became clear that – barring accident or incident - the yellow jersey would stay on the shoulders of Langvad.
Sina Frei (Ghost Factory Racing) took the initiative on lap one. "To take a look at the track again”, she explained with a laugh. Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing) followed her, but the small gap to pursuer Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) was not significant. Lisa Pasteiner (Ghost Factory Racing) held the wheels of the leading trio for the opening lap but then fell behind.
Langvad felt the strain of the last three days and initially held back. "I was with Sina and Anna for one and a half laps, then I attacked on a short climb and from then on it was full throttle”, said the Dane.
Frei and van der Breggen stayed within striking distance for one more lap, but then the gap opened up to a minute. In the end, the Marathon World Champion finished 43 seconds ahead and was completely satisfied.
"My form is right. After the prologue I was still unsure and wondered what was going on. But then my legs opened up”, said Langvad, who has now won the Afxentia for the fourth time and banked some valuable preparation for Cape Epic with her partner, van der Breggen.
Van der Breggen, the World Road Race Champion, was engaged in a tight battle for second place on the stage with Frei. "It was great for me to be able to ride behind a technically-savvy rider like Sina in the downhill. Only at the bottom I lost some time, but I was able to close the gap on the open track", said van der Breggen with satisfaction. "It's much better in cross-country than last year. The training here has brought a lot of progress; we do not have such trails in the Netherlands. It was definitely fun and I'm really excited about Cape Epic. "
Under 23 record World Cup winner Sina Frei was happy about the second place and the overall third place. "I had pretty good legs today, but on the flat sections it was hard against Anna”, said the Swisswoman. "The track is cool and it was a lot of fun. I am very satisfied with my shape."
Her teammate, Lisa Pasteiner, had the company of Yana Belomoina (CST Sandd Bafang) in the middle of the race, but in the final lap the Austrian attacked before a longer downhill and got a decisive advantage.
"I knew pretty well that Sina is so much stronger in cross-country than me. I was hoping to finish in fourth place and I succeeded. I was still on a high and took this into the race, "said Pasteiner, who had not expected a fourth overall place before the start on Thursday.