A perfect and exciting day of racing closed the 20th edition of the Afxentia stage race at Mantra tou Kampiou picnic place. Fabian Giger (Sui) and Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Nor) are the winner of the first round of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. Dahle-Flesjaa won the final stage in front of Sabine Spitz and Elisabeth Brandau (both Ger), while Marco Fontana scored the second Italian stage win, beating French Maxime Marotte and Mathieu van der Poel (Ned).
For the men it was an exciting last stage at the Macheras Mountains. First “big thing”, that happened, was the Italian Luca Braidot breaking his chain in second of six laps. He was in second position in overall, only 37 seconds behind Fabian Giger (Kross Racing).
The try of Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) to go for a stage win, failed, when he flatted in third lap and had to change his wheel.
Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Corendon), former cyclo cross world champion, had bad luck, when he in the first lap was stopped by a rider in front of him and felt far back in second lap.
In lap four Maxime Marotte (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC) and Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing) took some seconds advantage from van der Poel and Fabian Giger, who was in first looking for his overall lead.
“It’s not so easy to ride for the stage and secure the overall in the same time. I did not want to take a risk”, Giger confessed. “The first two laps everything was fine, but then I felt a bit weak.”
Mathieu van der Poel had to pay for his effort to get back in the leading group. “This cost me a lot of power. So I was not able to follow Marco and Maxime”, van der Poel explained.
Fontana makes a mistake, Marotte is fighting hard
The gap for one lap was only about 10, 15 seconds, but when Marco Fontana attacked to leave Maxime Marotte, it was growing fast. “I attacked in a descent, got some seconds and in the next downhill I was going really fast and thought, now the race is over. But I made big mistake and went into the safety net. I lost some quite a few meters and he came back. But I was fighting and fighting and finally I got it”, Fontana told about his battle with Marotte.
“Today I had good legs. I was riding pretty smooth. I realized, I could win from the half way of the race. But Maxime was very strong. He can suffer that guy”, Marco Fontana said and laughed.
“I am stoked, yeah, a good start into the season.”
Commented Marotte: “Marco was more punchy than me. When he attacked, I could not follow. It was just to try to keep the distance. Till the end, I told myself, do not explode, because of the overall. Because van der Poel and Marco was not far behind me. I pushed and pushed. I think it was a good day for me. Last year it was the opposite.”
Indeed, he crossed the finish line 3 seconds behind Fontana (1:38:24) and saved 2 in the overall classification.
Giger: Proud to win the 20th edition
Third place went to Mathieu van der Poel (+0:48) The Dutch cyclo cross specialist did a phenomenal debut into the cross country scene. “Cross country suits me more than these point to point races. I am very satisfied. Before the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, I rode only two times on my mountain bike. So I think, there are a lot of things, I can improve”, says van der Poel. He missed the overall top three only by 17 seconds.
Fabian Giger secured his overall lead as fourth (+0:53) and took the Afxentia overall for the second time. “I am very, very happy to take it for a second time. Today in the morning, I recognized on my number plate that it’s the 20th edition of the Afxentia and I am proud to win it. Cool to start into the season like this”, the Swiss rider said. He won the Afxentia already in 2014.
Women: Dahle-Flesjaa takes advantage in the descents
Before the start of the women, everything seems to prepared for the overall victory of Adelheid Morath (BH-Sr Suntour-KMC). The German had a gap of 2:55 minutes to Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan-Merida). But already the start loop showed, that it could get a hard day for Morath.
The 31 years old suffered from the injury, she got by a crash on stage two. After one lap, she already was one minute back of the leading two ladies. Elisabeth Brandau was going for another stage win, after loosing the overall by a flat tire on stage 3. And Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa was looking for her chance to bridge the gap to Morath.
“Of course, I went full gaz. I knew, Adelheid had some hard days and I was always informed about my time difference during the race. Of course, three minutes are a big gap, but I felt better day by day and on this course with the cool downhills, you can get a lot of time”, the 43 years old Norwegian told.
She increased the gap, lap by lap and after entering the fifth and final 5,9 kilometre for the first time, she overtook Morath virtually. The Yellow Jersey was sitting around tenth place, catched back some positions to end up on seventh place, but the 3:34 minutes distance to Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (1:37:05) were too much.
“I am very happy with this win. To take one stage was my hope before, but to get the overall feels great”, the 43 years old Olympic champion of 2004 said.
Morath looses yellow, but shows herself not unhappy
Adelheid Morath was looking not unhappy, when she reached the finish line.
“I already had my problems yesterday with my hip. Today on the asphalt part, I could not give any pressure on the pedal. I never got a shadow of another rider. I had to fight hard, but I am mega happy about my result. Before the start of the Afxentia, I never expected that”, Morath explained. “Of course, it’s a pity, if you loose the leaders jersey and at least your body feels good. Anyway, I made the best out of it”, she added.
In the final stage her two compatriots Sabine Spitz and Elisabeth Brandau (Radon-EBE Racing) took the second and third spot on the podium. Elisabeth Brandau lost the contact to Dahle-Flesjaa in the downhill. “It’s my huge weakness”, Brandau confessed later. “Since I had a break after the birth of my son eleven months ago, I am still not able to compete with the other girls in the downhill. I am not able to open the brake”, she explained.
Spitz seems to be prepared for the Cape Epic
She was caught by Sabine Spitz in pre last lap and could not hold the Olympic champion of 2008. “I expected that Gunn-Rita will go for it today. But when the both left the group, I was not in the position to follow. Later I tried to push a little bit and was able to catch Lisa”, Spitz said.
First she left Swiss Linda Indergand (Focus XC) and Eva Lechner (Luna Pro Team) behind and then she reached Elisabeth Brandau to leave the winner of the first two stages in the downhill behind.
“I am looking very positive on these four days. The feeling was quite good and now I am looking forward to race the Cape Epic”, Spitz said.
Brandau missed the second position by nine seconds, but made it from 11 to six in the overall.
“Mentally it was difficult to realize that Gunn-Rita takes so much time in the downhills. That’s why I felt a bit in hole in the middle of the race, but at the end I catched back”, the German explained. So she could left Githa Michiels (Versluys), who already closed the gap to her.
Michiels takes no risk and ends up on three
The Belgian on her side defended her third place in the overall, after steady four days, without a stage podium.
“I am really happy about this third place. I felt strong, but suffered from back pain every day. It’s great to race with this great women and I really like it here. I have really fun on the courses. Today I did not want to risk, but towards the end, I felt so good, that I pushed more”, Michiels was telling.