Riders give troubled Tour of Turkey thumbs up

Riders at the Tour of Turkey gave the race much praise despite issues throughout the region.

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.”