The 23rd edition of the Afxentia stage race will not only be a battle for the win but also a showdown for some of the Cape Epic title contenders. Anna van der Breggen and Annika Langvad for the ladies, and Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts for the men, are in a field with participants from more than 25 different nations.
At the Afxentia stage race, we're used to discovering big names in the cross country and marathon scene at the start line. In the men's race, recurring guest Jaroslav Kulhavy from the Czech Republic leads the field. The 2012 Olympic Champion prepares for the Cape Epic together with Specialized companion, Howard Grotts. They will be defending champions at the prestigious race in South Africa, but in Cyprus they are once again opponents and looking for individual glory.
Should it become tactical, Kulhavy could of course work together with the American who was second last year at Afxentia. They will surely face strong opposition from Kulhay’sCzech compatriot, Ondrej Cink (Kross Racing), who is likely to be catchingback up with the world-class cross-country racers in the second year after his return from the road.
With Jan Skarnitzl (Mitas Mercedes-Benz Praha) who has historically been strong in Cyprus, and outstanding marathon specialist Kristian Hynek (Vitalo-Future Cycling), the Czechs bring strength in depth.
Also in the men’s field are two Austrians, Karl market and Gregor Raggl (Möbel Märki), who could both play a strong role in the race. Under 23 World Championship bronze medallist, David Nordemann (CST Sandd Bafang)from the Netherlands and his two teammates - Sebastian Carstensen Fini (DEN) and Martins Blums (LAT) -are also ones to watch.
America’s U23 World Championship silver medallist, Christopher Blevins, is a new member of the Specialized Racing Team and certainly a threat to the established elite at Afxentia. Then there are the two Swiss: Fabian Giger (Superior XC) who won the Afxentia 2016 and Matthias Stirnemann (Möbel Märki), Cape Epic winner 2017.
Bartlomej Wawak (Volkswagen Samochody) must also be counted among the podium candidates; the Pole has already won a stage race in Lanzarote this year.
All in all, more than enough athletic quality has arrived on the Mediterranean island to provide interesting men's races!
Ladies: All eyes on Van der Breggen and Langvad
What a debut in 2018 for Olympic Road Race Champion, Anna van der Breggen (NED)! She duped the mountain bikers at herinaugural Afxentia attempt and won the classic stage race.
This year, the reigning Road Race World Champion returns and has even greater ambitions for the season ahead. Together with Marathon World Champion, Annika Langvad (DEN), she will compete in the Cape Epic for Specialized Racing.
The duo has been training for a week in Cyprus and should be well prepared on Thursday as the race gets underway.
But they can not deal only with themselves. For a start there is the Belgian Champion, Githa Michiels (Primaflor Mondraker), who is not only the Afxentia winner in 2017 but another rider preparing for the Cape Epic and who has been in Cyprus for many weeks over the winter.
Yana Belomoina (CST Sandd Bafang), overall World Cup winner in 2017, may not be in top shape yet, but the talented Ukrainian cannot be discounted.
The Ghost Factory Racing Team brings several strong figures to the start. You can expect a lot from the Hungarian Champion Barbara Benko, the Dutch Champion Anne Terpstra and certainly also from the Swiss Sina Frei, record winner in the U23 World Cup.
It will also be exciting to see how Christina Kollmann-Forstner (Texpa-Simplon) asserts herself. The Austrian was silver medal winner behind Annika Langvad at the Marathon World Championships.
Rain requires small changes
The winter rain has filled the reservoirs in Cyprus and, to the delight of the islanders and their guests, made for a lush green landscape. A side effect has been that the organizers of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup have had to make small changes at some points along the course.
"The difficulty level of the stages does not change," says Mike Hadjioannou of Bikin 'Cyprus.
The four stages are configured the same as 2018
Prologue from Lefkara to Skarinou: 14.5 kilometres with a negative altitude difference of 600 meters.
Stage 2 (Lefkara): 52 kilometres / 1820 vertical metres.
Stage 3 (Lythrodontas): 66.2 kilometres / 1916 vertical metres.
Stage 4 (Mantra tou Kampiou): XC course 5.9 kilometres / 217 metres altitude difference per lap
The amateur riders racing the Sunshine Challenge will take on the same course as the Elites for Stages 1-3, and then watch from the VIP tent as the professionals suffer on the Stage 4 XCO course!