Tour of Turkey Preview
It's cycling week in Turkey, in the middle of the classics season comes this race, part of those who had been upgraded to WorldTour level last year and where teams the Pro Continental teams will have their best chance of getting some WorldTour wins.
The race was founded in 2006 as a 2.2 race, in 2008 went up to 2.1, and in 2010 made the leap to 2.HC. It's a race that had this spot in the calendar, but when it moved up to WorldTour last year it moved to October, but the organizers felt April is the race's timeline to be. It is one that usually attracts a great sprinter startlist, and a less strong list of climbers, meaning it's a very open race for the overall.
There will be lots of these, all the stages but one can theorically finish in a bunch sprint if they're well played by the main teams, the opening one is no exception. Not a pan-flat stage, far from it in fact, but the little bums on the way to Tekirdag won't present much of a dificulty for the sprinters.
The same can't be said for the final climb, it isn't very hard, only 2.1Km at 4.9%, it likely won't cause gaps in the peloton but can be used to burn some of the sprinters' legs with only 12.5 kilometers to go.
The second stage is the first of two interesting slightly uphill finales. The stage in itself has a bumpy start, with rolling roads throughout the wole first 90 kilometers, but then there will be a completely flat approach to the final climb.
The final climb in itself isn't majorly hard, it features 3.15Km at 3.6%, it has a flat bit inside the final kilometer so it's ramps should come up to 5/6% at some points, it's one that some sprinters may still survive and take the win depending on how it's ridden, but it's sure that the climbers will be looking ahead thinking of the bonifications.
The third stage is again a bumpy one, but the finale is much easier then the previous days. This stage is perhaps the easiest of the route and should definetely be one to be disputed between the fastest men.
The fourth will again bring a rough challenge for the sprinters. Perhaps a stage suited to the breakaway with the rolling terrain near the final of the stage, but also as there's no particular favourites for the stage, it may be very indecisive in the peloton and if a strong group gets up the road it can be very dangerous.
At this point the riders will be used to the roller-coaster terrain leading up to the finish, it will make things hard as they aprroach the final climb, which is 2.7Km long at 4.25%, a steeper one than two days ago, but also a more constant one, with it's ramps dragging all the way to the line. It's a finale more suited for a puncheur but there isn't any overwhelming puncheur on the startlist to give favouritism, so it'll be a true battle between the sprinters and the climbers.
And in the penultimate day comes the undoubted queen stage. Baring badly-timed punctures and crashes leading to time losses, this is the only stage that should make serious gaps, in a way, the only day the climbers need to be in their top legs.
The stage in itself isn't really hard on it's bulk, but once they reach the 145Km mark the road starts to tilt up. They will go from pretty much sea height to a full 1300 where the finish line is placed in Kartepe.
The final climb can be split into two sections, the obvious first one is a brutal climb, with 12.1Km at 9.15% it's a brutal ascent by the standards of any rider, it's hard enough to see the decisive moves happen far from the finish still, it's very constant so there will be no relief until they get to the 3.5Km to the line mark where the actual climb finishes.
Afterwards comes an uphill drag but with some flat bits in the middle, the last 3.5Km average 3.7% but have some hard ramps in it, the final climb in total is 16.8Km at 7.4%, so there's no doubt the riders in front in this stage will be the ones in front of the overall standings.
And in the final stage the riders complete the whole loop of the Marmara sea to come complete the Tour back in Istambul, where it started. The stage, it isn't very hard, but it has a very sketchy finale.
It's the one that's been used in previous years, the final 1.5Km have a slight uphill gradient and a very technical finish. One that has seen rain and many crashes over the least few years. In any case it's a very hard finish, but adding rain to the mix can make this finish more a game of luck over good legs.
Using Istambul as a reference point we get a good idea of how the week will be. The temperatures will remain cold/mild, and rain can come around in Friday and Saturday, stages 4 and 5, the ones likely to decide the overall, also those where rain doesn't affect as much. The wind will have some strenght to it, not a massive wind but it will surely be present in most stages, something to look out for during the week as there's an history of crosswind-blown stages in here.
Climber fest.. Hum???
Well, not really. Only 6 WorldTour teams will be present and it's safe to say none as brought a team focusing on the GC. So we might aswell go one-by-one.
Bora have Felix Grosschartner, perhaps the biggest favourite taking into account his quality and form in Paris-Nice. He hasn't raced much this season though, but he'll have Romandie and California on the schedule so his shape must be on spot for this race.
Astana have Merhawi Kudus and Yevgeniy Gidich. Kudus is a lightweight climber, he should really fancy his chances on the summit finish, as he was also ridding very strongly in Catalunya. Gidich is more of a puncheur type, he can climb long mountains but not as well, but he's one to play for stage wins on the harder days.
Deceuninck have Remco Evenepoel, amazingly he actually has a decent chance of fighting for the win. The stage 5 climb suits him really well, he won't have any support except Eros Capecchi who is far from his best days, but his struggle will come certainly in the technical finales, so his team should focus on protecting him as best they can.
Dimension Data have perhaps the most focused mountain squad. Ben O'Connor is the leader here, he'll try to make a mens for the bad luck he's been having this season, and a WorldTour stage-race win would definetely be a big success for him and Dimension Data who have been having a rought time to say the least. He has Scott Davies with him, another good climber, he hasn't shown great form this season but the competition isn't strong either so he should be one to look out for. And to a point, Ryan Gibbons? Well he can climb well for a sprinter, and he is very strong on uphill finishes like the ones we'll have. Fight for the win is out of bounds of course, but after seeing him finish 15th in Oman, he can be expected to try to finish in the Top10, as he can also be a good contender to rack up bonifications along the race.
Emirates have two good options, Jan Polanc and Valerio Conti. Both have shown good exhibitions in the mountains so far this season, they didn't stand out but they are absolutely two riders who can be in the fight for the win.
Lotto Soudal don't really have a good climber for the fight. One can argue Harm Vanhoucke/ Carl Frederik Hagen but it's hard to picture them up there.
Pro Continental ready to strike
Delko Marseille just had a great Paris-Roubaix, it may come as a bit of motivation for the team, they have Javier Moreno, Delio Fernandez and Mauro Finetto has possibilities to fight for the overall. Manzana Postobon have Jhonatan Restrepo who comes with good form from Circuit de la Sarthe, Rally UHC Cycling have Rob Britton, at the time the race will run it will make an exact year that he won the Tour of Gila.
There is Mustafa Sayar also, he won the race in 2013 but was removed of that win. His case is unusual to say the least, but he will be on the startline. And finally there's W52/Porto who bring an interesting squad. João Rodrigues has been sidelined last minute, but they still bring Raul Alarcón and Edgar Pinto who can be in the overall contention.
Ah! Sprinter fest I mean
Yes that's right! As it's been the case in the last few years, Turkey remains a sprinter's go-to place, specially as it has lots of opportunities for an elusive win, lots of sprinters choose to come here to try their luck.
This year is no exception, we have Sam Bennett perhaps headlining a great startlist in terms of that. He has 3 WT wins this season already, as will be looking to build on that number, he's won 7 stages in total in the last two editions so it's only plausible that that number goes up this year despite the harder competition. Main rival is predicted to be Caleb Ewan, he's also came here with the goal of building up on his win tally of the season, which consists in a single victory in the UAE Tour, both can deal with the slight uphill finishes relatively well and have strong leadouts.
The strongest though comes from Deceuninck without a doubt. Fabio Jakobsen is the set leader surely but with him is aso Alvaro Hodeg. Two great quality sprinters, backed up by a top-notch leadout consisting of Max Richeze, Michael Morkov and Davide Martinelli, one of the most experienced group of leadout men a team could have, and one that will be crucial in the technical finishes, and can also have a role in late attacks in those.
Dimension Data have an interesting squad, Ryan Gibbons surely the set sprinter as he can also deal with the hard finishes. The team has Mark Cavendish, not one to look out for the wins at first sight, but it's a plot many will be interested in watching this week.
UAE have Simone Consonni who is definetely one to watch on the harder finales. A very explosive sprinter who can climb the short pitches, he'll also have Juan Sebastian Molano has a backup and possible leadout for the faster finishes.
And at Pro Continental level there's also a good list. Caja Rural bring a trio consisting of Matteo Malucelli/Jon Aberasturi/Nelson Soto, Delko have Edward Grosu, a specialist in technical finishes it must be said, Euskadi have Enrique Sanz who should fancy his chances on the harder finishes, he's won 2 stages in the recent Volta ao Alentejo that had similar finishes.
Luca Pacioni leads Neri Sottoli, Juan José Lobato leads Nippo, the Turkey national team have Ahmet Orken and Sport Vlaanderen have the track specialists duo Kenny de Ketele and Moreno de Pauw.
Astana - The only WT team that really seems to be focusing on GC, Kudus and Gidich should give the others a headache.
Deceuninck/Bora - These have both sprinter and GC ideas at top level, Jakobsen and Bennett lead most of the team, but Evenepoel/Grosschartner will be protected.
Lotto Soudal - Solely for the sprints, team is full-on on backing Ewan.
UAE/Dimension Data - These have GC ambitions mainly but don't deny the sprints, stage hunters in a way, but the overall victory is in their reach.
Caja Rural/Sport Vlaanderen/Neri Sottoli/Turkey - These are the PCT teams to look out for in the faster finishes. Orken isn't from a PCT team but a national one, but Aberasturi/Malucelli/Soto, de Ketele/de Pauw and Pacioni should be strong outsiders for those finishes.
Euskadi/Delko/Manzana Postobon - With Sanz, Finetto and Restrepo, these are very dangerous teams for the rougher finishes. Grosu also, not to forget, he isn't a specialist but he knows how to take risks, he's probably focusing on the final stage.
Rally/W52 - These two teams have a heap of GC contenders within their squad, Britton/Alarcon/Pinto mainly, and they should be trying to get on the lower spots of a Top10, a great result to have in a race of this level.
Burgos - A bit lost for their ambition, they should be focusing on the breakaways, the KOM and Turkish beauties classifications, as a win there would come as a major result for them already.
⭐ Davies, Gidich, Alarcón, Pinto, Britton, J.Moreno, C.Hagen
My call is for Kudus to win overall. Astana didn't bring a rider that could sprint unlike every other WT team, so it's all in for the GC, he has Gidich capable of helping him in the mountain, one that should suit his -60Kg, also he's ridden very strongly in Valter 2000 in Catalunya against some of the best climbers in the world, so if he's on the same form he should be the strongest. He's won the Tour of Rwanda and two stages alongside, so he's got the killer instinct well marked, he is the main favourite perhaps.
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