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Most climbers with an eye on the Giro have chosen to finalize their preparations in Trentino or Romandie but there is one exception. John Darwin Atapuma is expected to lead Colombia's assault at the Giro and he has skipped the Trentino...

Photo: Sirotti

ANGELO PAGANI

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BRICE FEILLU

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BRUNO PIRES

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DANAIL ANDONOV PETROV

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DARWIN ATAPUMA

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TOUR OF TURKEY

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YOANN BAGOT

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26.04.2013 @ 09:20 Posted by Jesper Johannesen

On the day where the classics season comes to an end, it is time to turn the attention to the upcoming grand tours. While the GC contenders for the Giro d'Italia head to the climbs in Trentino and Romandie, the sprinters finalize their preparations for the Italian three-week race on the sunny roads in beautiful Turkey.

 

First held in 1964, the Tour of Turkey is an old race but for many years its existence was almost unnoticed by the cycling world as it was a lower-ranked event on the UCI calendar. 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 where it was an event for smaller continental teams are now over and no less than 9 of the 19 ProTeams have decided to head to Turkey for a week of racing on sunny roads.

 

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.

 

Furthermore, the Tour of Romandie and the other major preparation race in Trentino are extremely hilly and offer almost no possibilities for the sprinters. Hence, they do not offer the ideal opportunity for the fast men to test their legs ahead of the battles on the Italian roads. On the contrary, the long trip along the Turkish coast has plenty of terrain for the sprinters and while 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.

 

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. While the GC battle is still mostly reserved for young talents, the race will greet one of the most formidable line-up of sprinters seen at any point during the season. Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Bryan Coquard, Danilo Napolitano, Andrea Guardini, Sacha Modolo, Theo Bos, Francesco Lasca, Stephane Poulhies, Baptiste Planckaert, Alexander Porsev, Alexey Tsatevich, Davide Cimolai, Maximiliano Richeze, Gerald Ciolek, Andrew Fenn, Aidis Kruopis, Roger Kluge, Jonathan Cantwell, Jake Keogh and Francesco Chicchi 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.

 

Last year's edition saw a hugely surprising winner when veteran Bulgarian Ivailo Gabrovski crushed the ProTeam riders on the race's first ever mountaintop finish on the Elmali climb. Despite only being supported by a small Turkish continental team, Gabrovski was superior and managed to respond to all attacks during the remainder of the race to take home the overall victory. Later on it emerged that his strength had no natural explanation as he was tested positive for EPO and the victory was handed to Astana's talented climber Alexsandr Dyachenko. The Kazakh will not be back to defend his title as he is showing impressive strength on the climbs in Trentino these days. There is no doubt that organizers hope to see a much more credible winner of their race than last year's Bulgarian sensation.

 

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. Originally, the race started in Istanbul and travelled southeast to finish in the tourist city of Alanya but last year 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.

 

Another innovation in last year's edition was the introduction of a mountaintop finish. The teams had requested a harder route to make the GC battle more attractive and organizers chose to accommodate their desire by letting a stage finish atop the Elmali climb which is known as the Turkish Alpe d'Huez. This will once again be the case this year as they have created a course which is very similar to last year's and in which a number of stages will see a repeat.

 

The race starts on Sunday with a short 143km stage starting and finishing in the tourist city of Alanya. Even though the riders will tackle a small climb after 42,6km, the route is almost completely flat and the stage is sure to end in a mass sprint at the end of a short 16,5km finishing circuit. The sprinters will get an opportunity for revenge the next day as the short 150km stage 2 between Alanya and Antalya is even flatter and it is a sure bet that a fast man will win in another of the country's major tourist centers.

 

That all changes the next day when the riders will have to tackle the race's queen stage. The 153,5km route starts in Antalya and makes the race's only digression away from the coast as it heads inland to finish atop the Elmali climb. The climbing starts right from the beginning of the stage with the first categorized climb being located only 9,3km from the start and the riders will have to tackle another two first category climbs before the day's final challenge. The finishing mountain is a hard one with a length of more than 10km and some steep sections along the way and it is no coincidence that it is nicknamed as Turkey's Alpe d'Huez. The stage is by far the most crucial for the GC and even though there were plenty of attacks in the remaining stages last year, the final GC was very similar to the result of the race's queen stage.

 

This year the organizers have, however, toughened up the course to keep the GC suspense alive. The first of those harder stages will already be tackled the following day on a short 147,0km route from Gocek to Marmaris. The course is hilly throughout the day but the main challenge of the day, the Icmeler climb, will be climbed from a different way this year meaning that the riders will face sections with a 14% gradient in the last 5km of the climb as they ascend up to 600m of altitude. Then it is a fast 20km descent all the way down to the city of Marmaris which gives riders time to get back into contention. Last year Mark Renshaw beat Matt Goss in a sprint from a select group but organizers hope that the tougher climb will make the race more selective.

 

The 5th day of racing sees the riders tackle a 183km route from Marmaris to Turgutreis. The stage has some hard climbing in its early part with a category 1 climb finishing in 800m of altitude after 36,4km of racing and another hard ascent coming up later but the final 90km consist of a long descent and a flat section. The race could be suitable to a bunch sprint but last year the day saw the race's only successful breakaway as Andrea Di Corrado took the win when the sprinters' teams failed to keep control of the escape in the hard early part of the race. We could see a similar scenario this year.

 

The 6th stage is the last opportunity for the GC riders as they will tackle a new course finishing atop the Selcuk climb. The stage is a key innovation which should give riders an exciting opportunity to take back time lost on the Elmali climb. The 182km route is mostly flat but two hard climbs face the riders near the end of the day's racing. A category 2 climb has its top located only 19,5km from the finish and is followed by a fast descent to the bottom of the day's final ascent. The climb is a hard one going from sea level to more than 400m of altitude in around 5km and has the potential to do some damage to some tired legs at the end of a week of hard racing.

 

The sprinters will be happy to see a repeat of the race's last two stages as they are both completely flat and suitable to big bunch sprints. The 7th day of racing will see riders tackle a short 124km, completely flat route  from Kusadasi to Izmir and it would be a surprise not to see a big field arriving together. Nonetheless, Iljo Keisse denied the sprinters on the stage last year as he won after a hugely thrilling final to the stage where he remounted from a crash inside the final kilometer to just hold off a fast-finishing Marcel Kittel.

 

The final day is a classic finish to a major national tour with a short 121km route in the city of Istanbul. The race is the only of the year to be held in two continents as the riders start in Europe and cross the Bosporus Bridge to finish in the Asian part of the city. The final consists of 8 laps of a 12,1km flat finishing circuit and we should see another big sprint battle as an appropriate end to a week of exciting racing.

 

The weather

The weather is one of the key ingredients making the race popular among the riders as there is almost guarantee for warmth and plenty of sunshine. The riders will probably not feel disappointed this year as forecasts predict perfect conditions for a bike race.

 

There may be a shower on the opening day in Alanya but after that it will be a case of sun, almost no wind and temperatures around the 20 degrees mark for the rest of the week. However, the forecasts may change and the wind has often played a role in the race. As the riders travel along the coast, it can be quite strong and a headwind has often resulted in some very controlled, uninspiring racing while a tailwind has been a source for entertainment and aggression.

 

The favourites

As claimed above, there is a huge difference between the level of competition in the race's sprint stages and the GC battle. While the line-up of fast men is formidable, the two uphill finishes is the perfect opportunity to check out young talent and second-row riders battle it out without having to fight the supreme might of the sport's biggest stars. This opens up the door for a fascinating battle from which future stars can emerge and in which a number of riders suddenly see a unique opportunity to take home a very rare stage race victory.

 

Most climbers with an eye on the Giro have chosen to finalize their preparations in the Giro del Trentino or the Tour de Romandie but there is one exception. Alongside Fabio Duarte and Jarlinson Pantano, John Darwin Atapuma is expected to lead Colombia's assault at the Giro and unlike his fellow captains, he has skipped the Trentino climbs in favour of the warm Turkish weather.

 

The current condition of the Colombian is somewhat uncertain as he has been absent from competitive action since the Criterium International but he has not been lazy in the intervening time. On the contrary, he has been busy honing his Giro form in the Colombian mountains and there is every reason to believe that he is on fire right now. If this is the case, he stands out as the major favourite as he has all of the characteristics to be competitive on a course with a hard mountaintop finish and no time trial.

 

He is a pure climber and his victory on the mighty Passo Pordoi in last year's Giro del Trentino where he beat the likes of Carlos Betancur, Domenico Pozzovivo, Sylwester Szmyd, Damiano Cunego and Jose Rujano, shows that he is able to fight with the sport's biggest stars. One month later he was the only one able to follow a superior Robert Gesink in the queen stage of the Tour of California and if he is at the same level, he will be very difficult to beat on the steep Elmali climb. His lack of racing kilometres is a clear disadvantage but with two stages to find the rhythm before the queen stage, he has a chance to familiarize himself with racing pace. If he takes the jersey atop the Turkish Alpe d'Huez, his team will face a hard challenge to defend the jersey on the rugged terrain throughout the remainder of the week but Gabrovski showed last year that it is certainly possible to win the race with an inexperienced team if the captain is strong enough.

 

His main competitor could very well be Yoann Bagot (Cofidis) who lines up as one of several options in a very strong Cofidis team. In his 4th year as a professional, the Frenchman has had no major results but he has made steady progress and last year's 8th place in the mountainous Tour de l'Ain proves his potential as a climber. He had a very promising start to the Vuelta and seemed to be in the fight for an overall top 20 until a bad crash took him out of the race.

 

This year, he has stepped up his game a little further and he was a strong 21st in a very hard Vuelta al Pais Vasco. With all of his famous competitors in the Basque Country all absent from the Turkish start line, he should be in the mix on a course that suits him perfectly. He will be formidably supported by Nicolas Edet, Guillaume Levarlet and Rudy Molard who are all capable to fight for the win themselves and the French team could very well turn out the be one of the strongest  after an until now not overly successful season.

 

Unlike Atapuma and Bagot, Danail Andonov Petrov (Caja Rural) knows the Elmali climb and the Turkish roads as he took 2nd in the race behind Dyachenko last year. The veteran Bulgarian is the strongest in his country and there is no doubt that he will relish the opportunity to put Bulgaria in the spotlight for the right reasons after last year's Gabrovski scandal. After a number of successful years on the Portuguese cycling scene, he got his chance at a higher level when he joined the Caja Rural team prior to the 2012 season and he delivered on his promise with the performance in Turkey and a 7th place in the hard one-day race GP Miguel Indurain.

 

This year he repeated his performance in the Basque one-day race and he has had plenty of quality racing with participations in the WorldTour races Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco. While he has not been able to notch up top results, he has had every opportunity to improve his condition and there is little doubt that he has marked out the Turkish race as an important early-season objective. Furthermore, his Caja Rural team relish the opportunity to be a protagonist in a major stage race and with Petrov they have a rider perfectly suited to the course. With Fabrico Ferrari on the roster, he has crucial support in the mountains while the team will also try to set up Francesco Lasca and Manuel Cardoso for sprint victories.

 

Atapuma is not the only card on hand for the Colombia team as the climber Robinson Chalapud offers the team another option on the steep slopes of Elmali. In an until now disappointing season for the ambitious team, he has been one of the few sources for encouragement as he was 15th in the GP Miguel Indurain, 12th in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and 35th in the Fleche Wallonne last Wednesday. None of these races really suited a pure climber like Chalapud and so his results suggest that he is strong right now.

 

He had a disappointing 2012 season but his 5th place in the Tour de l'Ain, 6th in the GP Miguel Indurain and 12th in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in 2011 prove that he is able to fight with the sport's biggest stars. In a less competitive field in Turkey, he has the potential to stand out in the two uphill finishes and with Atapuma he forms a formidable duo of strong Colombian climbers.

 

Team NetApp-Endura also hope to be in the mix for the GC win as they line up their Portuguese climber Jose Joao Pimenta. Having shown plenty of promise in his home country, he got an opportunity to perform in bigger races as he was picked up by the Polish pro continental CCC team prior to the 2011 season. He never impressed and as the Poles scaled back to continental level, he was back in Portugal last year. A number of strong performances convinced the NetApp team that he deserved a new chance and this year he is one of the stage race captains on the only German professional team.

 

He has had a strong showing in the early part of the season with an 18th place in the Tour de San Luis, 14th in the Vuelta a Murcia, 23rd in the Tirreno-Adriatico and 15th in the Coppi e Bartali race and in the threes stage races it could have been much better, had it not been for his lack of time trial strength. There is no individual effort in this week's race and the Portuguese climber could not have designed a much better course. His condition is somewhat uncertain as he has not raced since the end of March and he will furthermore be disadvantaged by a team which mostly consists of sprinters and classics riders. If he is at his best, he could, however, have a chance to finally prove his worth on the big scene.

 

Angelo Pagani (Bardiani) is one of several extremely talented climbers on the green-clad team. While most of them have been part of the team's strong display in the Giro del Trentino, Pagani has been sent to Turkey to lead the squad's GC charge in Asia. He is only in his 3rd year as a professional and while he had a hard time in his debut year, he showed glimpses of his potential last season. An 11th place and 13th place in the mountainous Tour of Austria and Giro di Padania prove his climbing prowess and he was also in the mix in some of the several hard Italian one-day races. He made his Giro debut last year and there is little doubt that the increased stamina from his grand tour participation will benefit him in this year's racing.

 

Like most of his rivals, he returns to action after a long break as he has not raced since he was forced to abandon the Coppi e Bartali race and so his condition is highly uncertain. With the Giro approaching, he cannot be too far off the pace, and the race in Turkey could be the perfect opportunity to mark himself out as a hot prospect for the future.

 

One of the more established names to start the Turkish race is Brice Feillu (Sojasun). The Frenchman got a massive breakthrough when he won the mountain stage to Andorra-Arcalis in his debut Tour de France in 2009. Since then he has had a pair of troubled seasons on the Vacansoleil and Leopard-Trek teams but last year he seemed to find his former strength as part of his new French squad. He had a strong showing in some of the hardest stages of the Tour de France after battling illness early in the race and with a 6th place in the Tour of Portugal, 10th in the Circuit de Lorraine and 18th in the Volta a Catalunya he once again started to clock up results.

 

This year he has had a hard time but he showed glimpses of improved form as part of a strong break in the queen stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon a week ago. On a course suited to his characteristics, he would have been marked out as a major favourite had it not been for the uncertainty about his condition. If the signs from Spain last week are testament to increased strength, he could, however, very well end up winning the race as part of a strong Sojasun team also boasting the likes of Jonathan Hivert, Maxime Mederel, Remi Pauriol and Yannick Talabardon.

 

Finally Bruno Pires (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) deserves a mention. Last year he was one of the few riders on his Danish team to really step up when Alberto Contador was absent due to suspension. He finished 15th in the Criterium du Dauphine, 4th in the Tour of Slovenia and 14th in the Tour de Pologne before he delivered a perfect performance in support of Contador in the Vuelta.

 

This year he has only raced twice since February as he abandoned the GP Miguel Indurain and was a modest 69th in the Klasika Primavera. Hence, his condition is highly uncertain but this week's race presents him with a rare chance to go for a personal result. He will no doubt be eager to seize the opportunity and if he has been able to build up condition despite his lack of racing, he has the climbing strength to win on the course found in Turkey.

 

***** John Darwin Atapuma

**** Yoann Bagot, Danail Andonov Petrov

*** Robinson Chalapud, Jose Joao Pimenta, Angelo Pagani, Brice Feillu, Bruno Pires

** Kevin Seeldrayers, Florian Guillou, Nicolas Edet, Guillaume Levarlet, Cameron Meyer, Jonathan Hivert, Remi Pauriol, Warren Barguil, Rory Sutherland, David De La Fuente, Andrey Mizurov

* Andrey Kashechkin, Marc De Maar, Clement Koretzky, Fabricio Ferrari, Rudy Molard, Dennis Van Niekerk, Serge Pauwels, Maxime Mederel, Natnael Berhane

 

Stage winner picks

Stage 1: Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Theo Bos, Bryan Coquard, Aidis Kruopis

Stage 2: Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Theo Bos, Bryan Coquard, Francesco Chicchi

Stage 3: John Darwin Atapuma, Yoann Bagot, Danail Andonov Petrov, Ribinson Chalapud, Jose Joao Pimenta

Stage 4: Bryan Coquard, Sacha Modolo, Andre Greipel, Mark Renshaw, Leigh Howard

Stage 5: David De La Fuente, Jonathan Hivert, Clement Koretzky, Serge Pauwels, Nicolas Edet

Stage 6: John Darwin Atapuma, Yoann Bagot, Danail Andonov Petrov, Angelo Pagani, Bruno Pires, 

Stage 7: Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Theo Bos, Bryan Coquard, Sacha Modolo

Stage 8: Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Theo Bos, Bryan Coquard, Aidis Kruopis

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