If you’ve been watching the Italian Classics, Paris-Tours and Il Lombardia and thinking about how good racing can be after the Worlds, then I hope you enjoyed yourself. The season as defined by the UCI ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Two whimpers, to be exact. The second is in Guangxi, but right now, we have the Presidential Tour of Turkey to think about. It runs from Tuesday to Sunday.
What’s going on?
This is a race that continues to be almost, but not quite, a really valuable stage race. It takes place on the edge of Europe, and on the edge of cycling’s consciousness, remaining mostly outside of both. This year, it has moved backwards in the calendar, and is no longer a tune-up for anything other than the offseason. On the other hand, it has gained World Tour status, and the attendant points that are of such value to teams and riders. The course is mostly unchanged.
The net impact of all of that appears to be... very little. We still have a startlist with a few up and coming climbers and a few established sprinters. We still have a mix of WT, Pro-Conti and local teams. We still have a race with an intriguing parcours, established sponsors and good TV coverage. We still don’t have a race with any meaningful prestige or impact. There are three reasons to watch:
- It’s on, and watching whatever is on is what we do at the cafe
- The Turkish coast is really pretty
- This is a good race to spot up and coming climbers.
What’s the course like?
Much as it always has been. Full details on the website but there are stages with various degrees of bumpiness and one mountain finish.
Stage one is a coastal run of 176km and one for the sprinters.
Stage two is mostly coastal and runs for 206kms, with a cat-2 climb too early in the stage to stop this being a second probable sprinters’ day.
Stage three is bumpier and there’s a sharp hill 8km from the finish that could shell plenty of riders who’ll have to fight to get back on during the mostly downhill run in.
Stage four is our Queen stage. Leaving Marmaris, the riders are straight onto uncategorised climbs as they move inland, and there’s a cat-one climb after 28km or so. From there it is mostly downhill or flat until the final 20km, which contain a cat three and then the familiar cat 2 climb to Selcuk. That’s the climb that was decisive in 2015 (Pello Bilbao ahead of Miguel Angel Lopez) and 2014 (Adam Yates ahead of Davide Formolo). You see what I mean about this being a useful indicator of climbing talent?
The course profiles suffer from hilarious y-axis extension, so treat this with some caution, but the profile is below. Expect the overall victory to come down to who handles the steep ascent to Friday’s finish best.
Stage five contains a couple of big climbs but they are too far from the finish to be decisive. This is likely to be one for either the sprinters or a committed breakaway.
We’re down to six stages this year, and the final one is a 140km around Istanbul, crossing from the Asian side of the country into the European by way of the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge, a new and beautiful suspension bridge over the northern end of the Bosphorus. The race finishes with a crowd-pleasing lap of central Istanbul. Expect stunning photography for the fans and challenging bends for the riders, with a few hundred metres at 7% just before the finish that could eliminate a few less versatile sprinters.
The startlist is still to be finalised, but we have four World Tour teams, Astana, Bora, UAE and Trek, supported by a bunch of bigger Pro-Conti teams. CCC and Caja Rural have traditionally gone well here, whilst Androni, Willier and Bardiani will be trying to parlay some WT points out of their form from the Italian classics.
Sam Bennett is Bora’s man for the sprints, and is ending the season in decent form. He’ll be targeting the flatter stages, and he’ll rarely see weaker opposition. Marko Kump may get a rare chance to ride for himself on the flat stages, whlist Boy van Poppel and Justin Jules will also be looking to get competitive.
There are more contenders for the mountain stage and the overall, and here it is a question of who comes in with sufficient form to produce their best. Trek are presumably hoping to see Pantano riding well, and Bora will be supporting Konig, whilst Chernetckii looks like Astana’s best option. Things are more open at UAE, who have brought the deepest and strongest team in this year’s field. Atapuma, Niemic and Ulissi are all capable of winning overall, but if this continues to be a race where youth rises to the top, they have an excellent climbing talent in Edward Ravasi, who’s so far been solid but not spectacular coming off his stellar u-23 season last year.
The Pro-Conti teams have some talent and there are riders throughout the field who could compete. You’d expect Caja Rural to support Arroyo, and Androni to protect Gavazzi. Among the younger contenders, I’d draw attention in particular to Willier, who bring excellent climbers with decent form, in the shape of Daniel Felipe Martinez and Yonder Godoy. I could see Martinez, in particular, being difficult to drop and making life difficult for the big teams. In the final anaylsis, however, I think it is likeliest that UAE will take advantage of strength in depth to produce the race winner.
I see Atapuma taking this from Pantano and Chernetckii, with a coming-out party for Martinez and Ravasi the most memorable element of the race.