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TOUR OF TURKEY

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03.05.2015 @ 10:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

On the day where the classics season comes to an end, it is already time to turn the attention to the next phase of the international cycling calendar: the upcoming grand tours. The main contenders are busy finalizing their preparations for the Giro d'Italia and do so by splitting into two camps. While the GC contenders head to the climbs in Trentino and Romandie, the sprinters get ready for the Italian three-week race on the sunny roads in beautiful Turkey that also allows the future climbing stars to chase success in a major stage race.

 

Turkey is certainly not known as a cycling powerhouse but every year the country takes a prominent place in the spotlight to showcase how much it has to offer for the avid cyclist. Like nearby countries Qatar and Oman, Turkey doesn't have a rich cycling scene and any high-level riders but over the past few years they have established a very important and highly popular event on the international cycling calendar that both showcases the beauties of the country and serves as the perfect preparation for the major European races.

 

First held in 1964, the Tour of Turkey is actually an old race but for many years its existence was almost unnoticed by the cycling world. As a lower-ranked event on the UCI calendar, it mostly attracted local riders and smaller teams and the professional peloton never touched Turkish soil. That all changed in 2008 when the Turkish government decided to use the sport of cycling to expose the country as a perfect tourist location and they saw a national tour along the sunny coast as the perfect means to achieve that objective.

 

With a money injection, the race saw a major upgrade and after having been granted 2.1 status in 2008, the race was even elevated to 2.HC status in 2010. The days when it was an event for smaller continental teams are now over and when the 2015 edition of the race takes off on Sunday, no less than 6 of the 17 ProTeams will be at the start to get in a week of quality racing on sunny roads. After initially only attracting smaller names from the best teams, the race now also attracts some of the sport's major stars and the Tour of Turkey has certainly grown to fame within the cycling world.

 

It is no coincidence that the race is able to attract plenty of the sport's largest squads. Held in the last part of April, the race is a perfect preparation event for the Giro d'Italia and while the traditional warm-up race in Romandie is famous for its rainy conditions, the riders are almost guaranteed to get 8 days of quality racing under the sun in a very well-organized event.  After its upgrade, it was originally held two weeks earlier but the organizers and the UCI made the wise decision to move it a bit closer to the Giro to create greater synergy between the two events.

 

For the Giro contenders, the Tour of Turkey fills an obvious void in the cycling calendar. The Tour of Romandie and the other major preparation race in Trentino are extremely hilly and offer almost no possibilities for the sprinters. Hence, the fast men have very few chances to test their legs ahead of the battles on the Italian roads if they line up in Italy or Switzerland. On the contrary, the long trip along the Turkish coast has plenty of terrain for the sprinters and even though organizers have hardened the race somewhat in recent editions, the fast men still have plenty of chances to show off their speed. It is thus no surprise to see the Giro riders split into two camps: the GC riders head to the mountains in Trentino and Romandie while the sprinters travel to sunny Turkey.

 

In the first years after the upgrade, the race was a sprint festival where the GC was determined on some of the lumpier stages along the coast that contained some solid climbing but no major ascents. Listening to the wishes of the teams, the organizers have made the GC battle more attractive over the last few years. The first major initiative was the inclusion of the mountaintop finish at Elmali - the mountain known as Turkey's Alpe d'Huez - for the 2012 edition and in 2013 another summit finish was added in Selcuk to make sure that the GC was not all decided in a single stage. This has turned the race into more of a "real" stage race, with the stages being more diverse and offering opportunities for different kinds of riders.

 

The first editions after the race's upgrade in 2008 were mostly characterized by professional continental teams going head to head with some of the younger riders on the ProTeams but this has changed in recent years. Despite the addition of harder stages, the race is still unable to compete with the Tour de Romandie for the attention from the GC stars and so the GC battle is still mostly reserved for young talents who get a rare chance to ride for themselves in a major UCI race. On the other hand, the race will greet one of the most formidable line-up of sprinters seen at any point during the season. Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Caleb Ewan, Andrea Guardini, Yauheni Hutarovich, Tom Boonen, Sacha Modolo, Roberto Ferrari, Davide Appollonio, Theo Bos, Francesco Chicchi, Nicola Ruffoni, Manuel Belletti, Jakub Mareczko, Roy Jans, Nicolas Marini, Brenton Jones, Ken Hanson, Carlos Barbero, Andrea Peron, Martijn Verschoor, Grzegorz Stepniak, Edwin Avila and Sebastian Molano are just some of the names who are expected to battle it out in the sprints during the coming week.

 

While the race has gained an important status as a crucial sporting event, it also serves its original purpose of promoting Turkey as a tourist destination. The race is broadcast live on Eurosport and showcases off a number of the tourist attractions found along the Turkish coast while the riders battle it out on the nearby roads. The race could certainly be made tougher and more attractive from a sporting point of view by getting deeper into the mountains but the main purpose remains to showcase the beauty of the sunny Turkish coast.

 

Unfortunately, the race has been rocked by doping scandals over the last few years and as the race headed into last year’s 50th anniversary, it really needed a credible winner. After some great editions in the first years after its upgrade, the race has been tarnished since including the Elmali mountaintop finish three  years ago. The local Torku Sekerspor team has produced surprise winners twice in a row but both veteran Ivailo Gabrovski and young sensation Mustafa Sayar later tested positive after having beating the WorldTour stars in the biggest race for their team. Last year Torku Sekerspor again earned an invitation but had been forced to take a few anti-doping initiatives to prove themselves worthy of their spot in the race. They got through the race untarnished and with a new management they are back in 2015 and even aim for the WorldTour in years to come.

 

Last year’s race turned into a great battle between a reinvigorated Rein Taaramae and young sensation Adam Yates. The Estonian won the first battle on the Elmali climb and was in a great position as he headed into the decisive stage to Selcuk. Here Yates produced a well-timed attack that moved him into the lead by just a single second. In the final two sprint stages, splits saw him widen the gap I 5 seconds before he took home the biggest win of his young career, with the Cofidis pair of Taaramae and Romain Hardy completing the podium. The remaining six stages were all decided in bunch sprints and evolved into a great battle between Mark Cavendish and Elia Viviani. After three wins for Cavendish, Viviani beat the Brit twice but it was the Manxman who ended the race on top by winning the final stage. Yates won’t be back to defend his title as he fractured a finger in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Neither Taaramae nor Hardy will be at the start line as the Estonian has decided to skip the race while Hardy’s Cofidis team hasn’t been invited. Cavendish will use the race to get back up to speed after a short break but this time he won’t be up agaist Viviani whose Sky team won’t be present in the Turkish race.

 

The course

Over the last few years, the organizers have followed a very similar format for the design of the course. As an important purpose of the race is to promote Turkey as a tourist destination, the race takes in a very predictable route along the sunny Turkish coast while it visits some of the most important cities along the way and several of the start and finishing venues have been visited several times. Riders who have done the race before will be intimately familiar with many of the finales and roads and some stages are identical copies of ones used for past editions of the race.

 

Originally, the race stayed near the coast for the entire race but in 2012 the race made a small deviation from that pattern when it made its first visit to the Elmali climb in the mountains in the southern part of the country. The brutal ascent will again feature on this year's course before the race returns back to the coast. The main idea for the course has always been to travel along the sea between Istanbul and the tourist city of Alanya. Originally, the race started in Istanbul but in 2012 the direction was changed. This year organizers have chosen to stick to this idea and the race will once again finish in the biggest Turkish city.

 

In 2013 the organizers included the new summit finish in Selcuk and it will again be back on the map for the 2015 edition of the race. In fact, the course is very similar to the two most recent editions but a few twists have been made and it seems that this will be the hardest editions yet. Some stages are completely identical to last year’s and only the second and fifth stages of the race will visit new finishing cities. They have even been used in past editions of the race. In addition to the two well-known summit finishes, there will only be three guaranteed sprint finishes. The lumpy fourth stage is usually one for the strong sprinters who may also get a chance in the revamped stage 7 which is no longer one for the pure sprinters. Finally, the race will return to Pamukkale and its tough uphill sprint which is perfectly suited to puncheurs.

 

Stage 1:

For the fourth year in a row, the race kicks off in its former finishing city, the tourist destination of Alanya, with a short, flat stage for the sprinters. The 144.8km route is almost identical to the one that was used for last year's opener and is almost completely flat.

 

From the start, the riders do most of a lap of the 16.9km circuit that brings the riders all the way around Alanya on big, wide roads. From there, they follow the flat coastal road to the city of Gazipasa a little further down the road where they make a U-turn to return to Alanya along the same road. On the way out, they make a small deviation from the direct route as they briefly leave the coast to go up a small category 3 climb at the 54.8km mark. It is not major challenge though and will mainly serve to find the first leader of the KOM competition. Just after the turning point, the riders will contest the day's intermediate sprint.

 

Having returned to Alanya, the riders cross the finish line and they end the stage by doing two laps of the 16.9km finishing circuit. The circuit is completely non-technical with only two corners and the roads are very big. There's a sharp turn more than 1km from the line and then it's an almost completely straight road to the finish along the seafront. They will contest the Turkish Beauty sprint midway through the first lap and it will determine the first leader of that special competition.

 

Apart from the early small climb, there are no major challenges on the course and it is almost impossible to imagine that the race won't kick off with a big battle between the sprinters. Compared to last year's stage, the turning point has been moved a few kilometres further down the road to increase the distance slightly but otherwise it is completely unchanged. That Alanya is a sprinter's paradise is reflected by the list of winners as Marck Cavendish Marcel Kittel, Theo Bos, Kenny Van Hummel, André Greipel, Sebastian Siedler and Maximilano Richeze are the winners in the city since the upgrade of the race.

 

 

Stage 2:

The sprinters that lost the first battle will get a chance to take their revenge in Monday's second stage before the riders head into the mountains. Usually, the riders have travelled along the coast between Alanya and Antalya on this stage but last year the Tour of Turkey avoided the latter city, moving the finish of the second stage to the nearby city of Kemer. This year the organizers have returned to the original format and the 182.3km second stage will be an extended version of the one that was used in 2013.

 

Almost all day they will be following the coastal road and the only point where they will make a small digression is around the finishing city of Antalya which is located in one of the flattest parts of Turkey. Here they will zigzag a little through the flat terrain before they head to the city centre for the finish. With a long trip along the coast, the stage will be almost completely flat and there will be no categorized climbs at all. The highligts will be the Turkish Beauty sprint at the 54km mark and the intermediate sprints that come at the 107.2km and the 149.1km marks respectively. There is a very small hill with around 20km to go but otherwise, it is a very easy affair.

 

There are no major technical challenges in the finale as the riders will follow a big boulevard for most of the time. Having turned left in a big roundabout, they will make the final right-hand turn a few hundred metres from the finish and then the road bends gradually to the left before the riders reach the finishing straight along the coast. The stage result also counts towards the Turkish Beauty Sprint competition.

 

The flat terrain makes it another perfect opportunity for the sprinters who will relish the chance to battle it out along the big roads in Antalya. Most of the day will be spent along the coast but the wind rarely plays a role in the Tour of Turkey. Hence, it is hard to imagine that the sprint teams won’t be able to keep things together on what should be a straightforward day for the sprinters and this is reflected in the list of winners. Since the race was upgraded, every stage to Antalya has been decided in a bunch sprint, with Aidis Kruopis, André Greipel, Elia Viviani, Robert Förster and Maximilano Richeze forming the list of winners.

 

 

Stage 3:

Until now the GC riders have bided their time but on the third day, it is time for the single most decisive stage of the race. For the fourth year in a row, the riders will climb the Elmali known as Turkey's Alpe d'Huez and even though the addition of an extra summit finish means that it won't determine the GC completely, it remains the most important day of the race.

 

This year the stage has been shortened a bit compared to last year but like in 2014 the riders will approach Elmali from the hilly south which makes the stage quite a bit harder than it was in 2012 and 2013. This means that the riders will have done a significant amount of climbing before they get to the final climb in the 165.3km stage.

 

This year the riders will start in Kemer a little south of Antalya and in the first part, they will ride along a flat coastal road. As they approach last year’s starting city of Finike, they will shorten the distance by heading inlands to go up a small category 2 climb after 34km of racing before descending back to the coast. In Finike, they will contest the intermediate sprint at the 67.8km mark. From here, they again head inland along flat roads before they get to the mountainous terrain. A small uncategorized climb leads to the Turkish Beauty sprint after 99km of racing and this signals the start of the real climbing. The riders go up the category 1 Avlan Beli whose summit is located at more than 1200m of altitude and comes at the 108.7km mark. They have now reached a flat plateau where they will spend around 45km before the get to the bottom of the Elmali ascent.

 

The climb is 11.5km long and has an average gradient of 6-7%. The second half, however, is very steep and the in the past three editions of the races, the peloton has blown to pieces on the upper slopes, with the riders crossing the line one by one. Especially the final kilometre is very hard and can do a lot of damage and the climb is hard enough to produce some big time gaps on a day that suits the pure climbers.

 

Compared to last year, the first part of the stage is a bit easier and there is a longer flat section leading to the final climb. However, history proves that this stage has always come down to a battle between the GC riders on the final climb and it is usually a pretty controlled affair. The big difference can be made in the final part of the climb but history also shows that one can attack a few kilometres from the finish.

 

In 2012, Ivailo Gabrovski crushed the opposition on this climb by attacking from afar but after his positive doping control, the stage win was given to Alexandr Dyachenko who beat Danail Petrov by 3 seconds, with only 6 riders finishing within a minute of the stage winner. In 2013, Natnael Berhane made a strong late acceleration to put 6 seconds into Kevin Seeldraeyers and Mustafa Sayar on a day when 14 riders finished within a minute of the talented Eritrean. Last year Rein Taaramae and Adam Yates rode away from the rest before battling it out in the final steep section where the Estonian distanced the Australian by 6 seconds, with 11 riders finished in a bigger group between 38 and 44 seconds later.

 

 

Stage 4:

The fourth stage is an identical copy of a stage that already featured in the 2012 and 2014 editions of the race and the final two-thirds are identical to the fourth stage of the 2013 edition as well. Hence, many riders will be intimately familiar with the lumpy nature of the route on a day that could offer several different scenarios and is not one for the pure sprinters.

 

The stage is a short one as it heads over just 132km from Fethiye to Marmaris and even though the riders stay near the coast all day, the area is sufficiently hilly to make it a tough day in the saddle. The course is littered with short climbs and even though only one is categorized, it is a day full of ups and downs.

 

After three smaller ascents, the riders go up the day's category 3 climb, summiting at the 32.4km mark. From there the terrain is significantly easier as the peloton continues its westerly journey along the coast, contesting the intermediate sprint at the 48.9km mark, but things get difficult when they make a left-hand turn 32.4km from the finish.

 

Having contested the Turkish Beauty sprint 1.3km further up the road, the riders now cross a peninsula that sends them up two climbs. The top of the first and smallest one comes 25km from the finish but the main challenge is the final ascent that takes the riders up to around 250m of altitude. The top comes inside the final 10km of the stage and then it is a fast descent all the way to the finish in Marmaris, with only the final 2.5km being flat. The finish is a technical one as the riders do a sharp right-hand turn just 1.5km from the finish and then do another two turns before reaching the final 90-degree left-hand corner just 500m from the line. It leads onto the finishing straight along the seafront and history proves that it is very important to be well-placed at this point.

 

As time gaps have opened up, the stage could be one for a strong breakaway but history proves that it is usually one for the sprinters who have a solid pair of climbing legs. Last year Mark Cavendish survived the challenges when around 80 ridera arrived at the finish and he beat Maximilano Richeze and his lead-out man Mark Renshaw in the sprint after a great display by the team. One year earlier, Andre Greipel survived the late climbs before beating Nikias Arndt and Moreno Hofland in the sprint while Mark Renshaw held off Matthew Goss in a very close battle in 2012. In 2011 when a stage had the same finale, Manuel Belletti won a sprint from a reduced peloton while we have to go back to 2010 to find the last successful breakaway. That year Giovanni Visconti was the strongest from a 5-rider group that escaped on the final climb while Daryl Impey won from a long-distance break one year earlier. In any case, many riders have marked this one out as a chance for a successful escape and so we can expect some fast and aggressive racing all day. The final climb is usually the scene of some aggressive racing where the GC riders give it a go but history shows that it is hard for the climbers to make a difference, especially if there is a headwind.

 

 

Stage 5:

Compared to last year’s race, the novelty is the change to the fifth stage which sees the riders return to the beautiful city of Pamukkale after a three-year absence. This means the riders will again briefly deviate from the coastal route to head into hillier terrain and this turns it into a hard day that is definitely not for the pure sprinters. The race includes a tough uphill finish that makes it a stage for puncheurs who will relish the change to battle it out on the short ramp in the finishing city.

 

The short 159.9km stage starts in the city of Mugla at almost 700m of altitude and in this area, there aren’t many flat roads. The riders will travel in a northeasterly direction along rolling roads that include several smaller climbs before they get to a longer descent that leads to the bottom of the hardest climb of the stage. The top of the category 2 climb comes at the 74.9km mark and comes onto a plateau where the riders will get a bit of rest along completely flat roads until the get to the intermediate sprint in Tavas after 100.4km of racing.

 

Here the second part of the climbing starts when the riders tackle a short category 3 climb which summits with 48.4km to go. A short flat section leads to the final 40km which are almost all downhill as the riders descend to the plateau of Pamukkale and contest the Turkish Beauty sprint with 20.9km to go. Then they ride along flat roads for around 10km before they get to the difficult finale. There are no technical challenges at all as the riders follow a long straight road and instead it is the short ramp to the finish that will take the pure sprinters out of contention and make it a day for puncheurs.

 

The stage is a shortened version of the fourth stage of the 2010 and 2011 edition as the only difference is that the riders won’t have to do the tough climb from the coastal city of Marmaris to the starting city of Mugla. This means that the stage has significantly less climbing than it had back then when the opening ascent tore the peloton to pieces. In 2011 the main group was whittled down to 50 riders and they managed to catch a strong breakaway including a very young Thibaut Pinot before Alessandro Petacchi proved his improved climbing by beating the puncheurs in the uphill sprint. One year earlier the stage turned into a battle between the GC riders as a 6-rider group rode away from the rest before eventual overall winner Giovanni Visconti beat Tejay van Garderen and David Moncoutie on the final ramp.

 

This year the absence of the first climb means that the stage will be a lot less selective and with the long descent in the finale, it is very unlikely that it will be a day for the GC riders. As bigger time gaps have opened up, it looks like a very good day for a breakaway but the terrain is definitely controllable for a strong team. This could open the door for some of the puncheurs or strong sprinters who want to keep things under control to set up an uphill bunch sprint. The GC riders have to be attentive in the finale where splits can occur but the final ramp is not hard enough to make a difference for the best climbers in the race.

 

 

Stage 6:

Friday is the day when the final GC will be decided as the riders face the summit finish in Selcuk for the third time. Due to the new finish in Pamukkale on the previous day, however, the stage is completely changed from the one that has been used for the past two editions and only incorporates the same finale. In all editions, however, the first part has been almost completely flat and so the stages should have very similar outcomes.

 

In the first part of the race, the riders have been travelling along the western coast of Turkey before they briefly headed inland to visit Pamukkale. Stage 6 will bring them back to the coast to continue their journey in stage 7.

 

The 184.0km stage starts in Denizli just south of Pamukkale and it is located on a flat plateau in an otherwise mountainous area. This means that the riders will have an easy start to the race as they first tackle a 20km descent before they get onto flat roads. For the majority of the day, they travel in a westerly direction along plain roads where the only highlights are the intermediate and Turkish Beauty sprints which comeat the 76.1km and 122.1km marks respectively.

 

The selection will start after around 150km of racing when the riders reach the finale of last year’s stage and hit the bottom of the day's first climb which is of the third category. The first part is just a gentle rise but the second part is steeper. It will make the first gradual selection and tops 21.6km from the finish. Then there is another very small hill preceding the fast descent and short flat run-in to the bottom of the final climb. It's a tough affair on a winding road that takes the riders from sea level to 400m above sea level in around 5km, meaning that it's an average gradient of 8%.

 

The main time gaps will have opened up on the Elmali climb but there is still plenty of room for adjustments in this tough finale and as the two latest editions have proved, no one can expect things to stay as they are after this final hard stage of the race. With bonus seconds likely to be important and the first part of the stage being very easy to control, it is hard to imagine that the stage won’t be firmly controlled by the GC teams. The first climb may be used to make things hard and should create a small selection but it will all some down to a big battle on the finishing climb where the peloton will explode to pieces. Being much shorter than Elmali, the stage suits the punchier guys more than the real climbers.

 

Last year Adam Yates turned things around by launching a big acceleration with 1km to go. Race leader Rein Taaramae chased desperately but was unable to keep up with the Australian who won the stage with a 2-second advantage over Davide Formolo and Davide Rebellin to take the overall lead by a single second. The first 19 riders finished within a minute of the winner. One year earlier Mustafa Sayar showed lots of punch when he left everybody else behind and put 18 seconds into second placed Yoann Bagot whose teammate Nicolas Edet followed 23 seconds later. The first 18 riders finished within a minute of the stage winner and crossed the line in small groups. With just two flat stages to go, there is no reason for the GC riders to hold anything back and at the top of the Selcuk climb we will know who's going to win the 2015 Tour of Turkey.

 

 

Stage 7:

The Tour of Turkey may be known as a race for sprinters and after a hilly middle part, the race has usually offered two sprint stages in Izmir and Istanbul at the end of the race. This year, however, the organizers have given a twist to the penultimate stage whose finish is still located in Izmir but to get there, the riders have to do a lot more climbing than they have done in the past.

 

In the past few years, the riders have done a short 132km ride from Kusadasi to Izmir and as they have been following the coastal road for almost the entire stage, it has been a completely flat affair. This year they will travel over a longer 168.5km from the previous day’s finish in Selcuk to Izmir but this time they will head inland to tackle some of the climbs north of Izmir.

 

After the start in Izmir, they will be travelling along flat roads on a small plateau before the climbing starts. A long gradual ascent leads to the top of the category 2 Karabel Pass which comes at the 52.8km mark. It is followed by a long section of slight descending where they will contest the intermediate sprint after 62.9km of racing.

 

The riders will now make a small loop on the flat plateau that surrounds the hilly area north of Izmir before they turn around in the city of Manisa where the Turkish Beauty sprint comes at the 123.8km mark. This time, however, they will pass straight through the hills to go up the category 1 Sabuncubeli Pass which summits with just 28.8km to go and brings the riders up to more than 500m of altitude. Then it is a fast descent – with a small climber at the midpoint – before the riders hit the final flat 10km that bring them to the centre of Izmir. The finale poses no major technical challenges as the riders follow a big road until they get to the coastal road which they will follow for the final part of the stage. There is a left-hand turn a few kilometres from the finish and then the riders will be riding on a winding road for the final part of the stage. However, they will cross the finish line 3.6km from the finish before they make a huge turn 1.8km later to head back along the same road for the final sprint.

 

With a very tough climb in the finale, this day could be too hard for the sprinters and it looks like a good day for a breakaway. If the sprinters are unsure about their ability to survive the final climb, they won’t ask their teams to control the race and this could open the door for the attackers. However, some of the stronger sprinters may be keen to get rid of the fast guys like Mark Cavendish and this means that a reduced bunch sprint is definitely an opportunity. It is also the final chance for the GC riders to attack each other and we are likely to see some attempts on the final climb. Due to the long distance from the top to the finish, however, they are unlikely to pay off.

 

Izmir has hosted a stage finish since 2012 but the three previous stages have all been a lot easier. When it first featured in 2012, the fast finishers were denied. Iljo Keisse was the last surviving member of an early breakaway and he battled hard to stay away when he went down in the final sharp turn. He managed to get back on his bike and dug deep to cross the line less than a second before being passed by a fast-finishing Marcel Kittel. In Kittel got his revenge when he beat Andrea Guardini in a big bunch sprint and last year it was Elia Viviani who took his second stage win by holding off Mark Cavendish in the final dash to the line.

 

 

Stage 8:

Like so many other national tours, the Tour of Turkey ends with a circuit stage for the sprinters in one of the biggest cities of the country but the finish of the Turkish race has a very special feature that no other race has. Overnight the riders will have travelled by plane from Izmir to Istanbul which is split into a European and Asian part and the stage is the only bike race on the international calendar to be held in two different continents.

 

In the past, the riders have headed straight from the start in the European part over the Bosporus Bridge to the Asian part where they have ended the race by doing a few laps of a circuit where the sprinters have excelled. This year the layout has been changed as the riders will now cross the Bosporus Bridge twice to both start and finish the race in the European part.

 

The riders will head straight from the real start at the Kennedy Street along the flat coastal road to the Bosporus Bridge which they will pass after 7.4km of racing. From here, they will travel along a big flat boulevard to the Galata Bridge which they will pass at the 24.9km mark. A little further down the road, they will turn around and head back over the Galata and Bosporus Bridge to the European part after having contested the final Turkish Beauty sprint at the 32.4km mark.

 

Back in Europe, the riders will do 10 laps of a flat 9.1km finishing circuit that has no major technical difficulties, with the final sprint coming during the 6th lap after 82.5km of racing. At the end of the final lap, there are still 1.6km to go and even though the final part is completely flat, the many technical challenges will make things difficult. Having taken a U-turn, the riders will do three right-hand turns in quick succession before they get to the flamme rouge. With 900m to go, there’s a left-hand turn and 300m later, the riders will go through the final left-hand turn that leads onto the 600m finishing straight.

 

As it is the case for so many of these stages, it is virtually impossible for it not to end in a bunch sprint and the final circuit with its few corners and wide roads suit the pure sprinters perfectly. However, the technical finale will make things very difficult for the sprint trains and will make team support and positioning very important. Furthermore, splits may occur in this technical finale and it will be important for the GC riders not to lose time at the very end of the race.

 

Last year Mark Cavendish got his revenge after two straight defeats when he finally managed to beat Elia Viviani again. In 2013 Marcel Kittel beat Andrea Guardini and Andrew Fenn in the big bunch sprint while Theo Bos was stronger than Fenn and Stefan Van Dijk one year earlier. A big bunch sprint will again bring the Tour of Turkey to an end, making it a fitting conclusion to a race that is known for its splendid line-up of fast finishers.

 

The favourites

The start list may be attracting most attention due to its fabulous line-up of sprinters as the race boasts a field of fast finishers that is one of the very strongest of the entire season. On the other hand, the biggest climbers all stay away from the Turkish race, often preferring to do Liege-Bastogne-Liege and/or the Tour de Romandie instead.

 

That makes the GC battle rather refreshing as has often is a rare opportunity for the future stars to lead their respective teams in a big bike race and history proves that you may be a lot wiser about the upcoming grand tour contenders if you keep a close look at the GC in Turkey. If you want to see the battle between the biggest riders, there is no reason to follow the climbing stages in Turkey but if you want to see a race between some of the best talents, the Turkish race has often been the one to keep an eye on.

 

With no time trials and bonus seconds in the race, it will all come down to the best climbing legs and unless something unexpected happens, the race will be decided on stages 3 and 6. Stages 1, 2, and 8 are obvious affairs for sprinters while history proves that stages 4 and 5 are also not hard enough to make a difference between the GC riders. The new curse will make stage 7 harder than it has been in the past but again it is very unlikely to have an impact on the GC. Furthermore, the number of sprinters in the race means that several teams have a genuine interest in setting up sprints on most of the days and this will make very little room for making a difference. Even though the riders are travelling along the coast, the wind has not played a big role in the race over the past few years.

 

With the race set to be decided in the two summit finishes, it is definitely one for the climbers. However, the two climbing stages are a bit different. The long, steep climb to Elmali is one for the real climbers and should open up the biggest time differences while the Selcuk ascent is shorter and more for explosive riders. With Elmali being the hardest, the pure climbers have the upper hand but if a rider with a solid punch can keep himself in contention on day 3, he may turn the tables around three days later. That's what Mustafa Sayar did in 2013 and what Adam Yates did last year.

 

With none of the big stars present, the riders are also on a much more level playing field and the list of potential winners is both longer and more open than in most of the European races. History proves that young riders have often excelled in this race and last year two neo-pros even finished in the top 4. This year it is slightly different as most teams have opted for different programmes for their future stars, and instead the race could be a chance for veterans and former WorldTour riders to shine in a major race.

 

One of them is Davide Rebellin who returns to the race after he made a belated debut at the age of 42 in 2014. In his first appearance, he finished fifth overall and if he hadn’t lost 10 seconds due to inattentiveness when the peloton split in a sprint stage, he would have been on the podium as the best of the rest behind Adam Yates and Rein Taaramae who were clearly the strongest riders in the race.

 

This year Rebellin is back in action and he hopes to do even better in the Turkish event. He may now be 43 years of age but nothing suggests that he has slowed down since his first appearance in Turkey. In the autumn, he even won the Giro dell’Emilia which is one of the hardest Italian one-day races on the calendar and he managed to distance some of the best climbers in the world on the famous San Luca climb.

 

This year Rebellin has been riding at his usual high and consistent level. He was in the mix right from the start of the year when he made a big attack in the finale of the GP la Marseillaise and went on to finish 8th in the Tour du Haut Var where he was again among the best on the climbs. In the GP Nobili Rubinetterie in March, he again distanced most of his rivals on the finale climb and he went on to finish fifth in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali after having taken third in the queen stage. Recently, he finished 5th in the Brabantse Pijl despite working for his teammate Maciej Paterski but he was slightly off the pace in the Amstel Gold Race.

 

The latter performance suggests that Rebellin is not as explosive as he once was but that’s not a major disadvantage in the Tour of Turkey where the climbs are longer and more similar to a race like the Giro dell’Emilia. The CCC Polsat leader has never been a rider for the long climbs and Elmali is definitely not tailor-made for him. In the field, however, he should be among the strongest and like last year he should be able to limit his losses. Selcuk suits him much better and it would be no surprise to see him ride away with a stage win and the overall victory on that day.

 

In the remaining stages, Rebellin has to stay attentive to avoid missing a split like he did last year but he will probably have learned from the mistake. In a field that seems to be less stoked with climbing talent than it has been in the past, Rebellin stands out as one of the best climber and an in-form rider and this makes him our favourite to win the race.

 

His biggest rival could be a former teammate. Tomasz Marczynski stepped down from the WorldTour to join CCC in 2014 but he never found his best legs and didn’t get his contract renewed. Instead, he was signed as one of two captains for the Torku Sekerspor team for whom the Tour of Turkey is the season highlight. Hence, Marczynski has prepared meticulously for this race and he should be at 100% of his capabilities when he lines up in Alanya.

 

Apparently, his efforts have paid off as he took the overall victory in the Tour du Marco whoch ended on April 12. Along the way, he won no less than three out of 10 stages and finished in the top 6 on another three. That suggests that he is back in great condition after a number of injury-marred seasons.

 

For several years, Marczynski has done well in mountainous Spanish races but his big breakthrough came in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana where he finished 13th overall. Later that year he was 8th in the Tour of Beijing but he never managed to build on that progress as he was slowed down by health issues. Now he finally seems to be closer to his 2012 level and even though there is a massive difference between the Tour du Maroc and the Tour of Turkey, there is a big chance that Marczynski will allow Torku Sekerspor to step onto the top step of the podium in Istanbul for the third time in four years.

 

Bretagne go into this race with one of the strongest climbing teams as most teams are focused entirely on the sprints.  On paper, the team have four cards to play but one stands out as their best option. While Brice Feillu and Florian Guillou are not yet at their best and Kevin Ledanois still needs to prove that he can best the best in this kind of race, Eduardo Sepulveda has already shined in the toughest races. The Argentinean is a huge stage race talent and is destined for a great future.

 

Already last year he was expected to lead Bretagne in the Tour de France after a great start to the year in races like the Tour de San Luis and Tour Mediteraneen. A knee injury forced him to miss his season highlight and when he returned to competition, he broke his collarbone just before the Worlds. However, he got himself back into good condition for the Tour de San Luis in January where he finished 4th overall and later he won the hard Classic Sud Ardeche in a two-rider sprint.

 

Since the, he has not been at his best and he was far off the pace in both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya which were among his highlights. Since then he has had a break from racing and so nobody knows how he is going. He will use Fleche Wallonne to get back into the racing rhythm and then he will be targeting the GC in Turkey.

 

Sepulveda is a versatile rider who would have preferred the inclusion of a time trial but as he proved on the Mont Faron in last year’s Tour Mediteraneen, he can be up there with the best on the climbs too. This race should suit him well and if he has found back the legs he had earlier this year, it may be the time for him to win a big stage race.

 

Another big talent who will hope to shine on Turkish roads, is Tour de l’Avenir champion Miguel Angel Lopez. The Astana climber took a commanding victory in the most important stage race for U23 riders and that performance allowed him to sign a WorldTour contract. Unfortunately, he has been suffering from knee pain in the early part of the year and this prevented him from riding in Langkawi where he was expected to lead the team. When he returned to action in the Volta a Catalunya, the pain came back and he was forced to abandon on stage 5.

 

This means that Lopez is likely to go into this race with a less than ideal preparation and no one outside the Astana team really knows how he is going. However, the Colombian is an extremely talented climber who will find the long and steep Elmali ascent to his liking. If he is back at 100% of his capabilities, he could stamp his authority on the race in stage 3 and become the second neo-pro in a row to win the Turkish race.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE were planning to bring defending champion Adam Yates back to this race but the Australian broke a finger in Pais Vasco and is unable to defend his title. Instead, they offered his in-form brother Simon the chance to be the leader but the Brit preferred to test himself at the higher level in the Ardennes and Romandie.

 

This has opened the door for Cameron Meyer to lead the team which will also target stage wins with Caleb Ewan. The Australian is known as one of the most inconsistent riders in the peloton but when he has been at his best, he has shown promise as a stage race rider. In 2013, he was fifth in this race, fifth in California and tenth in the Tour de Suisse but since then his progress has stalled and he had a terrible 2014 season.  At the start of the year, he seemed to be back on track when he took the overall win in the Herald Sun Tour but since he returned to Europe, he has again been far off the pace.

 

Meyer is not a pure climber but he can defend himself well in this hard terrain and if he has the legs he had in January, he should be among the best. Selcuk is probably a little bit too explosive to suit him well and he will have to make the difference on Elmali where he can pace himself a bit better. Due to his inconsistency no one knows what to expect from Meyer and it remains to be seen how he is riding by the time we get to the mountains.

 

Caja Rural have often done well in this race and this year they go into the race with an in-form Pello Bilbao as their leader. The Spaniard recently opened his 2015 account when he won the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in unexpected circumstances. The Basque is known as a reasonably fast rider but no one had expected him to win a bunch sprint in the Spanish race. On the final day, he found himself in more familiar terrain in the queen stage where he finished 7th to secure 4th overall.

 

Bilbao is not a pure climber and he will never become a grand tour rider. However, he can do well in shorter stage races as he proved in 2014 when he finished 6th in the Vuelta a Burgos and 7th in the Tour of Norway. With no time trial, the course suits him well and especially Selcuk should be a treat for an explosive rider like the Basque. Caja Rural is keen to continue their momentum after an unfortunate start to the year and Bilbao may keep them on track with a good showing in Turkey.

 

Bardiani have often used this race to prepare for the Giro d’Italia but mostly they have not been a part of the GC battle. As an Italian team, they have preferred to send their climbers to the Giro del Trentino and this year is no exception. However, the team will still have a very powerful line-up in Turkey as both Enrico Battaglin and Sonny Colbrelli will be at the start.

 

While the amount of climbing will be too tough for Colbrelli, Battaglin should be able to do well. Last year he even won a big mountain stage at the Giro d’Italia and he has worked hard over the winter to become an even better climber. He will never be a GC rider in the hardest races in Europe but in a race like this, he should be able to do well, with the Selcuk climb being tailor-made for him.

 

However, Battaglin is hugely inconsistent and he is rarely at 100% of his capabilities. This year he has been off the pace and after briefly showing sign of progress in the Volta Limburg Classic, he was unable to make an impact in Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race which should have suited him perfectly. Nothing suggests that he is ready to go for the win in Turkey but if his legs suddenly come around, he has the potential to win the race.

 

Marczynski is not the only Torku Sekerspor card. In addition to the Pole, the team signed Kevin Seeldraeyers who again found himself without a contract at the WorldTour level after a year as a pro continental rider with Wanty. He was once expected to be the next Belgian grand tour contender but he never managed to confirm the potential he showed when he won the white jersey at the 2009 Giro d’Italia.

 

However, Seeldraeyers has shown glimpses of his potential like in 2013 when he dominated the mountain stages in the Tour of Austria. This race is his season highlight and he seems to be in reasonable condition. He was not as strong as Marczynski in Morocco but this mountainous race suits him a lot better. He may have timed his build-up perfectly and if he has the legs he had in Austria two years ago, he will win this race.

 

Colombia have often hoped to do well in this race but they have never had much of an impact. This year they go into the race with two leaders and it seems that their best option is Carlos Quinero who has had a very steady progress. In his first pro seasons, he was a solid allrounder but this year he has improved his climbing massively. He was with the best on the climbs in Coppi e Bartali where he suddenly found himself with the chance to ride for GC in a stage race. He faded a bit in the queen stage but still ended the race in 10th overall. Since then he has been training in Colombia and he should be at a high level for this race. The amount of climbing may be a bit too much to win the race but he could definitely be a top 5 candidate.

 

On paper, Lopez is the best Astana card but the team can also count on Italian veteran Valerio Agnoli. For year, he has been known as a key domestique in the grand tours and he is one of Vincenzo Nibali’s closest friends. After he nearly had to end his career in 2014, Astana threw him a lifeline and this year he has been given more chances to ride for himself. He took over Lopez leadership role in Langkawi where he finished second overall and was 9th in Coppi e Bartali where he rode for the Italian national team. Most recently, he was instrumental in delivering Mikel Landa to a stage win in Pais Vasco and he has been climbing excellently all year. Whether he is strong enough to win this kind of race remains to be seen but he should be up there on the climbs.

 

MTN-Qhubeka go into the race with Serge Pauwels as their leader as they have opted not to send riders like Merhawi Kudus and Louis Meintjes to Turkey. The Belgian has had a slow start to the year but seems to have found his legs in time for the Turkish race. He rode strongly in Brabantse Pijl and was solid in the Amstel Gold Race too and is clearly on the rise. Unfortunately, he is pretty inconsistent but when he reaches his best level, he is very strong. At last year’s Giro d’Italia, he was a key rider for Rigoberto Uran in the mountains and if he can rediscover those legs, he will be a threat.

 

For the second year in a row, Lampre-Merida go into this race with Kristijan Durasek as their leader. The Slovenian is mostly known as a loyal domestique but this is his chance to ride for himself. Last year he finished 7th and on paper he is one of the best climbers in this year’s race. However, he has been far from his usual level in his recent races and he has to step up his level if he wants to be a contender for the win in Turkey.

 

Colombia have a second card to play with Alex Cano who has been one of the best climbers on the Colombian domestique scene for a couple of years. In 2015, he has got the chance to ride in Europe but he has had a hard time getting adapted to the faster pace. However, he is slowly learning how to handle the higher level and he has the potential to do very well. With no time trial and a slightly lower level, the Tour of Turkey suits him down to the ground. However, he was forced to abandon the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon with knee pain and this makes his condition uncertain. If he hadn’t been set back by injuries, he would have been one of our favourites but now he is more of an outsider.

 

Natnael Berhane is a former winner of this race but for some reasen he has failed to reach the level he had in 2013. Last year was a disaster for the Eritrean climber but after he has joined MTN-Qhubeka, he seems to be back on track. However, he still has a long way to go before he is able to get back to his previous level but the return to Turkey may serve as motivation for Berhane. Here he gets a rare chance to be one of the leaders and he will be eager to prove that he is still capable of big things in the mountains.

 

In addition to Agnoli and Lopez, Astana may also play the card of Alexey Lutsenko. The former U23 world champion is more known as a stage hunter due to his fast sprint and he has never really been a GC contender in stage races. However, the young Kazakh has had some tremendous rides in the mountains, most notably when he was second on a sbig mountain stage in the 2014 Vuelta a Espana. This year he has not been at his best though and he had to skip the Amstel Gold Race due to a saddle sore. It will probably be too much to expect a great GC from the talented Kazakh but he has the potential to create a surprise.

 

Finally, Kevin Ledanois deserves a mention. The Bretagne neo-pro is strong in hilly terrain as he proved in 2014 when he rode as a stagiaire. He was 6th in the Arctic Race of Norway and won the hilly one-day race Tour du Jura which was enough to secure a contract with the pro continental team. He has had a slow start to the 2015 season but his legs have now come around. He was 4th in Paris-Camembert and last Sunday he was 9th in a very hard Tro Bro Leon. He is unlikely to win the race but don’t be surprised to see him mix it up with the best in the harder stages.

 

 

***** Davide Rebellin

**** Tomasz Marczynski, Eduardo Sepulveda

*** Miguel Angel Lopez, Cameron Meyer, Pello Bilbao, Enrico Battaglin, Kevin Seeldraeyers

** Carlos Quintero, Valerio Agnoli, Serge Pauwels, Kritijan Durasek, Alex Cano, Natnael Berhane, Alexey Lutsenko Kevin Ledanois, Thomas De Gendt

* Adam Hansen, Heinier Parra, Timothy Roe, Brice Feillu, Florian Guillou, Jay McCarthy, Edward Beltran, Eduard Prades, Fabricio Ferrari, Javier Mejias, llya Koshevoy, Lucas Euser, Victor Campenaerts, Damien Howson, John Ebsen, Enrico Barbin, Sonny Colbrelli, Edward Diaz

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