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Turkish champion parts ways with Israeli team citing Mideast tension

The Israeli pro cycling team Israel Cycling Academy has released Turkish rider Ahmet Orken from his 2018 contract, after the rider requested to be let go. According to a team press release, Orken cited “the effect that the recent events in the Middle East had on me and my family” as his reason for wishing to be released […]

The Israeli pro cycling team Israel Cycling Academy has released Turkish rider Ahmet Orken from his 2018 contract, after the rider requested to be let go.

According to a team press release, Orken cited “the effect that the recent events in the Middle East had on me and my family” as his reason for wishing to be released from his contract.

The team called the news “a heartbreaking decision.”

“This is heartbreaking for all of us,” said Ran Margaliot, the team’s general manager. “Ahmet is a great athlete and a great person. He joined our program with a vision and commitment to putting sport–and with it, peace–above politics. It was a brave decision and one that was received with widespread support and approval among the Israeli and Turkish people. While we are disappointed by his decision, we only want what is best for him and his family. The doors of Israel Cycling Academy will be open for Ahmet and we certainly hope to see him rejoin us.”

A four-time Turkish champion in the individual time trial, Orken had raced at the Continental level with Turkish team Torku-Skeepspor since 2012 before agreeing to join the Israeli team this past September. His palmares include three stages of the Tour of Qinghai Lake, three stages of the Tour of Serbia, and GC victories at the Tour of Aegean and International Tour of Torku Mevlana.

Orken was to become his country’s first rider to compete at the Pro Continental level, following the news that the Israel Cycling Academy would upgrade from the UCI Continental level this coming season.

In a September statement, Orken stressed the importance of his joining the Israeli team as a way to “contribute to peace and brotherhood.”

“Joining an Israeli team has never crossed my mind as being a problem whatsoever,” Orken said in the September statement. “On the contrary: Everyone around me has supported my decision with great enthusiasm.”

After completing the team’s training camp in November, Orken was named a Peace Ambassador by the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, an Israeli non-profit organization founded by former Israeli president Shimon Peres.

Turkey and Israel have endured strained politics over the last decade. Tensions between the two nations flared up earlier this month after U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, rather than Tel-Aviv. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the move could lead to Turkey breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel.

Upon learning of Orken’s desire to leave, Margaliot traveled to the rider’s hometown of Konya, Turkey, to try and persuade him to stay, the team said.

In a statement provided to the team, Orken said that “recent events” had “forced my hand” to leave the team.

“My family in Konya–and especially my mother and brother–have found themselves in a dire situation,” Orken said. “While I am thankful to be a professional cyclist, I am a dedicated son and brother first and foremost. I remain deeply thankful to the team, I have been treated like family from the very beginning. This was a unique opportunity for me both on and off the bike. I will continue to cheer for this program moving forward–both on and off the bike.”