ALANYA, Turkey (VN) — While Prince Charles led a pre-dawn commemorative service on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli to mark the centenary of the fighting that claimed nearly 150,000 lives there during World War I, Drapac Pro Cycling held a tribute of their own.
The riders and crew of Australian Pro Continental team gathered on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea 1,100 kilometers southeast of Gallipoli in the coastal resort town of Alanya to pay their respects prior to the start of the 51st Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey on Sunday.
Losses were heavy on both sides during the Gallipoli Campaign, eight months of fighting between Allied and Ottoman forces on the Gallipoli peninsula. More than 11,400 of the lives lost were those of troops from Australia and New Zealand, who were fighting under their own flags for the first time in the joint Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
For Drapac’s seven Aussie riders in attendance, Adam Phelan, Bernard Sulzberger, Brenton Jones, Malcolm Rudolph, Samuel Spokes, Tim Roe, and Graeme Brown, along with Dutch teammate Peter Koning, the opportunity to conduct a moment of silence to honor the fallen was an emotional and memorable experience.
“Anzac Day is arguably the most important national occasion for Australia and New Zealand,” said Jones, a 23-year-old from Victoria.
“To think about the battles, and the sacrifice and determination to fight for your country is overwhelming. To come over as an Aussie team and be in Turkey during the centenary of Gallipoli means a lot.
“It means when I’m out racing this week I will hold on a bit tighter, dig a bit deeper, and push myself a little harder,” Jones continued. “Maybe in some way that’s how I can pay my own tribute to our Anzac heroes.”
Co-directeur sportif (DS) and former Australian pro Rob Tighello talked to the team on Friday about the importance of what Australians and New Zealanders know as the “Anzac spirit,” and how it can be applied to their careers and everyday life.
“We are not coming here for war, we are coming here just for a bike race and we are grateful for the sacrifices our brothers made 100 years ago,” said Tighello, a former Tour Down Under KOM winner who also serves as DS for Drapac development squad Pat’s Veg in Australia’s National Road Series.
“But I just wanted to share the six qualities of the Anzac spirit – endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humor, larrikinism, and mateship – because we can use those same qualities in a bike race.
“I told our guys be proud of where we come from and being an Australian team,” Tighello told VeloNews. “I told them don’t be intimidated by the bigger teams with the bigger names, and as we say in Australia: ‘Have a go.’”
For Drapac, the Tour of Turkey is the first of three major international races on the upcoming schedule, with the Tour d’Azerbaijan and the Tour of California to follow, where the Australian team will compete against a number of WorldTour-level squads.
Among the twenty-one teams participating in the Tour of Turkey are six WorldTour outfits, including Astana, Etixx-Quickstep, Lampre-Merida, Lotto-Soudal, Orica-GreenEdge and Tinkoff-Saxo. For Jones, the opportunity to sprint against the likes of Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Alessandro Petacchi (Southeast), Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka) is the perfect opportunity to ride with pride.
“Being a young neo-pro getting an opportunity to race against the big boys is priceless,” Jones told VeloNews. “If I’m in a position and I have the Anzac spirit inside, who knows what can happen? We have the talent and the depth and if it all comes together we can accomplish anything.”
“While you can’t compare what we do to what our brave soldiers endured a century ago, there are similarities,” said Graeme Brown, a 36-year-old, 15-year veteran who spent the past decade with the Rabobank and its various later incarnations before joining Drapac for 2015. “After all, we lose races and they lost their lives. But what we can take with us is that fighting spirit and the courage to do selfless acts for the good of our country and the good of our teammates.”
Despite a loaded sprint field, Brown told VeloNews he’s quite familiar with the competition and feels his teammate Jones has all the skills necessary to challenge for results during the eight-day stage race in Turkey.
“BJ is good sprinter,” said Brown. “Now it’s time to try to get him to rub shoulders with Cav.
“In sprinting terms, this is nearly as good as it’s going to get – only Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) is not here really. If he can get amongst it and show that Anzac spirit, I know what to do to get him in the right spot.
“If he follows me and punches out the numbers he does at training, and if I can take him to 200m to go, and I can’t see why he can’t be in the mix with a shot for a win.”
Other Australians racing in Turkey this week include Orica-GreenEdge riders Caleb Ewan, Cameron Meyer, Damien Howson, and Leigh Howard, along with Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo), Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) and Mark Renshaw (Etixx-Quick-Step), as well as a lone New Zealander in Scott Ambrose (Team Novo Nordisk).
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.