Riders give troubled Tour of Turkey thumbs up

ISTANBUL (VN) — Pro cyclists gave the Tour of Turkey, a race that nearly ceased due to political problems and limited WorldTour team participation, their stamp of approval after completing the six-stage race Sunday among Istanbul’s famous mosques.

Belgian Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) led the final stage from the Bosphorus Strait that divides the continents of Europe and Asia. His sprint win over the cobbled streets in the old quarter, and the overall victory of Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), helped forget about recent issues in Turkey.

“It’s a bit hard to say [if this race is worthy of WorldTour status] it’s a pity there are not so many WorldTour teams [racing in Turkey],” Theuns said.

“For me, the parcours were good and the roads were good. In Belgium you have all the road furniture, but here the roads are good and big, and well classed. I really liked the parcours.

“The only thing is that the guys say that the stages of 200 kilometers are too long. But for me the parcours was nice: there were chances for the sprinters and climbers. For me it was a nice race.”

Such minor suggestions were music to the organizer’s ears after struggling for the last year to make sure the race would continue for its 53rd edition.

The future seemed bright when the UCI awarded it a spot on the WorldTour calendar. Initially, it sat in its usual April slot as a Giro d’Italia tune-up race. Political problems in Ankara (an attempted coup) and terrorism attacks – including one at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, in which the race hosted an after-party — deterred teams.

The UCI allowed it to run in October instead and to continue without the minimum 10 of the 18 WorldTour squads. This year, only WorldTour teams Bora-Hansgrohe, Trek-Segafredo, UAE Emirates, and Astana made the trip.

Those teams won all six stages. Irishman Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) won four times and appeared ready to win in Istanbul on Sunday until he slipped in the final corner.

The top teams’ presence and praise bodes well for the race’s future. Next year, it is scheduled for October 9-14 despite asking to be moved back to April for the 2019 season.

“The negative points? The fact that not more WorldTour teams turned up, because it turned out to be a lovely race,” Bennett said. “It’s worthy of WorldTour status, but it needs the riders to turn up. It’s a good race, hard race.”

The race’s success story includes years racing with a 2.2 and 2.1 UCI ranking. It moved to 2.HC and enjoyed top sprinters like Mark Cavendish fighting for the stages and riders like Adam Yates and Tejay van Garderen fighting for the overall.

The UCI awarded it and several other races, including the Amgen Tour California and the Abu Dhabi Tour, with the WorldTour tag for 2017. The controversial expanded race schedule caused the 18 WorldTour teams to complain of an overcrowded season. The governing body responded by making participation voluntary and reduced the points on offer. Those points count for individual and team rankings, but not for the sporting criterion when the UCI issues new team licenses.

“Turkey is a beautiful country, a great place to race and to visit,” American Gregory Daniel (Trek-Segafredo) said. “It is organized very well. I didn’t have any complaints about the food or travel.

“Is it worthy of WorldTour status? I think so, I know there were a few teams that were scared with some of the political issues, but I didn’t see that at all. Even as an American coming here, it was great.”

That sentiment was shared by other Americans in the race.

“We saw some amazing places and the stages were designed well because it was open to sprinters, climbers and breakaways,” Italian Paolo Simion (Bardiani-CSF) explained.

“Let’s hope next year we will have many more WorldTour teams because this race is so cool.”

Simion, Daniel, and other riders complimented the minimal transfers between stages when the race traveled in the country’s south along the Mediterranean Coast and its famous ancient ruins. However, they complained about the final push to the Istanbul finale, which included a flight and a 2 a.m. hotel check-in.

“The Tour of Turkey is perfect for finishing the season because the organization is very good and the weather is perfect,” Michal Paluta (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice) said.

“The race should stay [in the] WorldTour because everything is good for the riders. I hope for more WorldTour teams next year. More WorldTour teams will make this race harder and more interesting.”

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Tour of Turkey well-positioned for 2018 edition

IZMIR, Turkey (VN) — The Tour of Turkey will feature more WorldTour teams and star riders in 2018 with the dates and WorldTour status secured, says the director.

The 2017 Tour of Turkey races to the finish in Istanbul on Sunday with Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates) in control of the overall classification. Despite a rich history, however, a shallow field competes in the 53rd edition.

Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, and Mark Cavendish once fought for stage wins. Adam Yates, Tejay van Garderen, and Thibaut Pinot played for the overall. This year’s Tour of Turkey lacks such depth.

“We will have petty much the same dates for next year because it is too late to change but we might have some changes for the following years,” said organization director Zeki Yildirim. “We will announce the stages this week.

“We had a UCI representative and consultant here and that meeting was very productive and they were very impressed with our race organization. They said they were very happy with what we’ve done so far.”

The UCI announced the dates for the 2018 calendar last month with the Turkish stage race running October 9 to 14.

An attempted coup and terrorism problems forced the race organizer to re-schedule its race in 2017. The tour typically runs in April ahead of the Giro d’Italia but moved to mid-October.

The late changes and uncertainty meant that some teams hesitated and failed to ink in their planner the six-day event, which was promoted to the WorldTour calendar for 2017. Only four WorldTour teams – Trek-Segafredo, UAE Emirates, Astana, and Bora-Hansgrohe – attended, a low-water mark for any race on the top calendar.

“This year, it was our fault because we informed [the teams] of the stages pretty late. We don’t want to do that for next year and for that reason we will inform them pretty early so the teams may put the Tour of Turkey into their calendars,” Yildirim said.

“It’s too late to make changes now but we are hoping that we might be able to move the date to April in the future and keep our WorldTour status.”

Turkey once was the center of the Ottoman Empire and bridges Europe to Asia at the Black Sea. The race skirts the Mediterranean Coast to the south, home to many tourist resorts, and flies to Istanbul for the final stage.

American cyclists and staff just slipped through before U.S.-Turkish relations further deteriorated. Ankara, in response to the U.S.’s like move, stopped issuing visas to American travelers just before the race began.

“We do not have any concerns about security,” continued Yildirim. “This race is under control of our president and all of our ministers are involved. Yet we took much precautions for the security of the athletes and the organization.

“We have thermal camera helicopters securing the area before and during the race. We have Coast Guard following the race the whole way. We have unmanned aircrafts searching the area just in case. We have no concerns about security yet. The Trek-Segafredo team also Tweeted about its safety feelings here and we re-tweeted that.

“Turkey is a beautiful country and you can see that during the tour with amazing views that we have. We’d like to think that the teams enjoyed it and we want to welcome more teams for the future. We are known for our hospitality and we want them to experience this race.”

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Irishman Bennett leads new crop of sprinters

FETHIYE, Turkey (VN) — Irishman Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) forms part of a new crop of sprinters heading into the 2018 season while older stars could soon fade.

Bennett won the first two stages of the Tour of Turkey this week to underscore his steady rise. At 26 years old, he belongs in a young group of sprinters with Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro), and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).

“After winning the two sprints in the Tour of Turkey, I think that it sets a good morale in the race,” Bennett said. “The guys are giving 100 percent and it’s good to see. For me, it’s a big confidence booster and I think I can enjoy the off-season this year.”

Bennett won a stage in Paris-Nice by beating Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) earlier this year. With two wins in the Tour of Turkey, he counts three WorldTour wins and eight in total for 2018.

“It can only bring good things,” Bennett said of his 2017 success.

Three-time defending world champion Peter Sagan leads the Bora team after a multi-million-dollar transfer last year from team Tinkoff. Bennett fights for his place in the team roster when it races in the other big events.

In the Giro d’Italia, an illness held him back but he still placed second once and was third three times. Bennett should have his chance to lead Bora’s sprint team in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, while Sagan focuses on the classics and the Tour de France.

“He’s Irish, he’s full of confidence anyway, he doesn’t need anything extra,” explained Shane Archbold, who led Bennett to his wins in Turkey. “It’s good for him, it’s good to end the season on a high.

“He only had one WorldTour win to his name and now he has three in two days, so that’s pretty impressive on his part. The confidence is always good going into the off-season on a high.

“Pressure? He’s a motivated bike rider, so he’s going to put a lot of pressure on himself. I don’t think it makes any difference if he’s here, at the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, or some club race in Holland, it’s always going to be the same with Sam. It’s just the way he is.”

Colombian Fernando Gaviria, 23, dominated the Giro d’Italia with four stage wins this May. He now leads the next sprint wave as riders like Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) will relinquish their spots at the top rung of the sprint ladder in the coming seasons. Bennett, Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), and others will be racing alongside for victories.

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Despite regional turmoil, U.S. racers feel safe at Tour of Turkey

KUMLUCA, Turkey (VN) — American cyclists say they feel safe racing in the Tour of Turkey despite heightened political tensions in recent weeks.

A war over the border in Syria and attempted coups in Turkey have not stopped teams racing in the 53rd Tour of Turkey. However, two days before the race start Sunday night, the Turkish government stopped issuing visas to Americans wanting to visit for work or holiday.

“From what I read, there were some repercussions from the attempted coup last year that included some American citizens,” said Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo).

“It sounds like the U.S. stopped issuing visa to Turks in retaliation, and the Turkish government stopped issuing them to American citizens. But that was the day after we came in. It doesn’t look like it has been very well-enforced on either side.”

Both sides have imposed travel restrictions on each other’s citizens in a worsening diplomatic spat. Thankfully for the organizer, it came too late to stop cyclists from beginning the national tour Tuesday in Alanya.

Three U.S. cyclists lined up for the six-day stage race along with cyclists from South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The race skirts the Mediterranean coast and flies north for its last stage in Istanbul.

“I’m a proud American, but I’m not showing off too much right now,” said Chris Butler, a South Carolinian who lives in Spain and races for Spanish team Caja Rural-Seguros RGA.

Butler is visiting Turkey for the first time. Despite a risk of being sent home just hours before a blanket ban fell on Americans, he was able to buy his visa on landing.

“Because I was rolling with a Spanish entourage, it may have been easier,” Butler said.

“I have raced in a lot of crazy places: Israel, all over Asia. At the moment, it is not too crazy here and let’s keep it that way.

“Normally, I just think about racing my bike but there is a one percent chance for something crazy to happen. I am careful about what I do. I don’t give them a reason to throw me in jail. I just keep quiet and go with the flow.”

Children waved red Turkish flags along the starting street this morning in Kumluca, a beach resort town that caters to Turkish as well as visitors including British and Russians. Rolling along the coast, the peloton would have found it hard to think about the Islamic State troubles in Syria or Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s clampdown on protests.

“Along the coast here it is very beautiful, we are almost every day by the beach. The weather is great and the people are really friendly,” added Reijnen.

“It’s all relative, we are pretty far west in Turkey and like the U.S., it is a pretty big country. If we were racing along the Syrian border, it might be different. We are racing here along the coast, it’s a big tourist destination and it certainly feels as safe as any race.”

The Turkish national team rolled by with Ahmet Örken, who raced in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’ve been racing the Tour of Turkey for five years, I don’t think there’s a problem,” Örken explained.

“This problem between America and Turkey, not being able to go to Turkey to the U.S., it’s not good.

“Is it safe in Turkey? Yeah, there’s no problem.”

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