The 2018 Cyprus Sunshine Cup began on a high; not only was the start atop a spectacular ridge line at the highest point of the course, but also the atmosphere was full of excitement as the classic season opener got underway. Swiss Linda Indergand and Thomas Litscher won the prologue of the Afxentia Stage Race.
There was not much classic about the first stage, though. A largely downhill time trial of 14.6km which snaked through the cobbled streets of Lefkara offered a unique racing experience. The ancient alleyways and stairs came in between steep singletrail and fast fire tracks whose loose surfaces caught out a few competitors.
New teams, new bikes and a technical time trial made for an interesting recipe as riders pushed themselves in race mode, largely for the first time this year.
The first Elite Woman home was Olympic Road Race Champion, Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans). With no UCI mountain bike ranking, van der Breggen had an early start and would have to wait for every other rider to finish before discovering how her 27:05.604 effort stacked up against a World-class cross-country field.
As it turned out, it wasn’t before Linda Indergand (Swiss National Team) – the third ranked rider in this race – crossed the line and ducked under the twenty-six-minute mark that her time was beaten.
On the start list there were just two riders left to go, but unfortunately Yana Belomoina was not well this morning and decided not to start the race. This left the standings for stage 1 down to the defending Sunshine Cup Champion, Githa Michiels (Versluys MTB Team).
At the finish line, Michiels was full of smiles but not of confidence; she admitted a lot of mistakes and conceded that it was not really a stage to suit her strengths. It was with surprise, therefore, that Michiels later discovered that she had posted the third fasted time!
Van der Breggen also surprised herself. She was happy to have conquered the stone stairs through Lefkara village, and anything more than that seemed a bonus. Perhaps the two climbs and the long stretches of fast fire road were underestimated and this stage was more suited to the strong riders than anticipated.
Barbara Benko (Ghost Factory Racing) and Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Team Merida Gunn Rita) also got off to a strong start with fourth and fifth place respectively, but it was not a good day for Annika Langvad (Specialized racing XC) who punctured and now lies 34th, nearly ten minutes down.
Indergand is renowned for her strength and technical ability, and she made it count today. Tomorrow is a different day altogether, and will be interesting to see who will make their move.
The Swiss also took the top spot in the Elite Men’s race, with Thomas Litscher (jb Brunex Felt) making good his goal of a win in the Prologue.
Despite the niggling onset of a cold, Litscher was able to catch his minute man and hold off the charge from Titouan Carod (BMC Mountain Bike Racing Team), Jan Skarnitzl (Mitas Trek) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing XC).
Lars Forster (BMC Mountain Bike Racing Team) was nearest to Litcher’s time of 23:19.045, setting down the fastest time of the day with eight riders, including Litscher, still to race. Forster was pushed down to second place by 4.943 seconds, but that was a low as he would drop. He was full of animation at the finish, buzzing from what he described as a “crazy” and “spectacular” stage.
Kulhavy came closest to toppling the Swiss duo but had to be content with third place and 24.211 seconds lost. At the finish, the big Czech powerhouse explained that this first stage was a good warm up, but that tomorrow would be much harder. Some sickness has pushed his training back over the last month so he will just have to see how it goes over the following days.
Indeed, there is much to uncover and understand over the next three stages as the Cyprus Sunshine Cup draws riders out of the dark winter and into the limelight.
Both Indergand and Litscher are delighted to start their season with a win, now let’s see whether they can hold onto the famous orange leader’s jerseys tomorrow.
Full results here: www.activatecyprus.com/en/events/sunshinecup