Five years ago, we rarely saw anyone cycling in Cyprus. These days, it’s a different story – the hale and hearty are braving the roads to beat weekday traffic, families pedal along the Pedaios pathways of a Saturday, and lycra-clad enthusiasts head off to the hills of a weekend; biking in all its forms and for all sorts of purposes is really catching on it seems. And if your family has been bitten by the biking bug, there’s an upcoming event that should be top of your calendar: the island’s annual mountain biking extravaganza, The Sunshine Cup. Granted, you won’t be taking part in this most exciting of sports, but you will have the chance to see how the experts deal with the unique terrain that Cyprus has to offer…
Organised by Bikin’Cyprus under the auspices of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and the Cyprus Cycling Federation, this year sees the twentieth iteration of this unique mountain biking event. Split into two main races – the Afxentia and the Voroklini – the event categories begin this Thursday and include Women’s Elite, Men’s Elite, various Masters and Juniors series, along with the National Cup and Open.
It kicks off with the Stage 1 XCT Time Trial in Lefkara, with riders describing a large circle through the village and out into the surrounding hills. Juniors and Masters will begin their trial at 1pm, followed by the Elite competitors at 2pm in a rolling start. The following day, Friday 26, sees the Awards Ceremony for Stage 1 at 10.30am, before an early start to the Stage 2 XCP (Point to Point) race for both the Men’s and Women’s Elite at 11am, followed by the Juniors and Masters on a rolling start up to 1pm. Stage 3 moves away from Lefkara and takes in the areas surrounding Lythrodontas. All categories will compete over this roughly 40km course, which runs south and then west before heading back down into the village on an easterly course through the forest for an award ceremony from 1.30pm. The final stage of the Afxentia (Course Stage 4 – XCO) on Sunday sees all competitors taking part in a gruelling race around the Kapedes area. With a course that loops and switches back through the lightly forested hills, this phase will have bikers pushing themselves to their limits in an effort to take the Cup.
The second main event of the Sunshine series takes place on very different terrain. On March 6, spectators will have the chance to see their biking heroes take on the flatlands around Voroklini. This XCO race sees a 6km lap with a height gain of 180m per round, with all competitors racing for the finish line and a spot in the ranks of world leaders. And in that both the Afxentia and the Voroklini races count towards world ranking points (vital for the professionals seeking to cycle in the Olympics later this year) there will certainly be some big names to look out for…
With registration requests still flooding in, anyone who’s anyone in the biking world is taking part in the Cup. And though amateur riders can certainly take part, it’s the experts who are likely to draw the crowds. Athens Olympic champion Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa of Norway – the world’s most successful cross country and marathon racing female rider – is already signed up, impressed by an island that’s “an El Dorado for mountain bikers”. And London gold medallist Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic will be back once more to prepare for the punishing season ahead: “The island is perfect for training, we find good weather and it’s also perfect to have the Cyprus Sunshine Cup to get in the race mood,” he suggests.
So what is it that makes the Sunshine Cup such a huge draw for competitors and spectators alike? Apparently, it’s the variety of both terrain and experiences, suggest event organisers. “Cyprus is a continent condensed into an island: there are rapid changes of terrain entailing a variety of different road surfaces over short distances. Within the space of 10 km you can go from rocky to clay and steep to flat, enabling riders to experience all surfaces within a short period of time, making the island into one huge mountain bike arena.”
One huge a mountain bike arena? I’ll bet, when you went out for a placid pedal on Sunday, you never thought of that! Catch all the events in the coming week, and see how the worlds’ best two-wheeler experts tackle our island.
The Sunshine Cup
February 25 and March 6. For further information visit http://www.cyclingcy.com, email [email protected] or call 99 694 900 / 97 803 070