By Alula Abraha,
AFTER the hardest Elmali climb of stage-3 in the presidential Tour of Turkey last Tuesday, Merhawi Kudus has set himself as a race leader for his team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsun to contend for the GC that is expected to be concluded in the weekend.
The winner of the Elmali heights (stage-3) of the presidential tour of Turkey, which is one of the hardest climb in the European tour race courses, usually emerges as the GC winner in the end. Last year, it was conquered by Natnael Berhane of Eritrea and eventually won it after being unfairly dispossessed of his yellow leaders Jersey in the 6 stage by a Turkish rider riddled with doping scandal.
This year, we’ve arrived at the same critical stage-6, where Natanel had a puncture only 2km before the Celcuk summit finish, but with luck on his side, the performance of a fellow Eritrean, Merhawi Kudus, and also that of his teammates that includes another Eritrean, Freqalsi Debesay, was outstanding.
In the run up to today’s Celcuk summit finish, Merhawi has been finishing wheel-to-wheel and strong in a bunch finish in all the rest of the other 4 stages as that of the stage-winners that includes the world indoor track and road race champion, Mark Cavendish of GB that has won an impressive 3 out of the 5 stages so far, while finishing 2nd in another one but trailing Merhawi by a cumulative time of nearly half an hour in the GC. Poor in climbing that he might be, however, with 3 out of 5 stage wins, Cavendish has proven to the world, once again, his sprinting prowess.
What’s unusual about the 2014 Presidential Tour of Turkey is the absence from the race of the reigning champion, Natnael Berhane. His team Europcar, which was a PCT last year when Natnael had won it for himself and the team before the team got promoted to the elite’s world tour (WT) team this season, has decided not to enter the 2014 edition. No doubt that Europcar should have taken part in the Tour of Turkey and help Natnael defend his championship there.
But, ironically, on the eve of the start of the Elmali climb, Natnael was racing in the gruelling 263km one-Day race in Leige, Belgium and was unable to finish the race. The race was so hard that over 60 riders were also unable to finish the gruelling WT race course in Belgium of which the World champion time-trialist, Tony Martin of Germany and Spaniard Jouquim Rodriguez were amongst the DNFs (non-finishers).
But the other Eritrean cycling household name, Daniel Teklehaymanot who was also in the same Leige WT for his team MTN Qhubeka has successfully finished the race, where half of his teammates including the 2012 tour of Eritrea winner, Jacque, were amongst the DNFs.
In another, one day race in Frankfurt, Germany, Daniel was amongst the few who had finished the race. Meron Amanuel riding for team Bike Aid (CT) based in Germany had also taken part in it but like all of the rest of his 7 teammates, he was unable to finish the race that saw 96 DNFs out of a total of 162 starters.
But now back to the Presidential tour of Turkey, courtesy of his performance in the 3rd stage, Merhawi Kudus was sitting 5th in the GC quite comfortably until stage-4 but that wasn’t the case for the spaniard, Luis Sanchez, who was 4th ahead of Merhawi. But after the tight bunch finish in stage-5, Merhawi’s better cumulative finish relative to that of Sanchez has helped Merhawi to displace Sanchez of the 4th place and inching ever closer to the podium as well as increasing the heat on the GC leaders. It wasn’t the first time that Sanchez experiencing a coup on his position. It was remembered that a magnificent performance by Natnael Berhane and help by fellow Eritreans Meron Amanuel and Meron Teshome at the Amissa Bongo Tour of Gabon, earlier this year, had dislodged Sanchez off his pedestal almost right at the death.
Now with three more stages to go in Turkey, Merhawi has a massive task to accomplish to dislodge three more riders sitting ahead of him in the GC and if there is any chance of doing just that, it has to be at the Selcuk summit finish of stage-6 later today. This climb is a short climb but at an average of 8% gradient for the last 5km of the race course is certain to open a gap. With Merhawi hot on their heels, the help of his teammates is going to be crucial today.
The French rider, Romain Hardy, is within sight to be knocked off his 3rd podium place by the end of the day today but the 32 seconds lead by Adam Yates of Britain in 2nd place and 38 seconds by lead by the GC leader is a big task to accomplish indeed.
Adam Yates in 2nd place is a rider that had amazingly climbed from an amateur status last year to a whooping WT rider signed alongside his twin brother, Simon Yates, by Team Orica GreenEdge this year. They were one of the few that had replaced Daniel Teklehayamanot that had left Orica to join MTN Qhubeka.
Ironically, a couple of months after he signed for Orica in 2012, it was the presidential tour of Turkey that Daniel picked his first points as World tour rider. He finished 14th in the GC, way ahead of all his teammates and the only one to collect points. However, Yates seems to better that record and only Merhawi can stop him. It was, however, unfortunate, that Adam has to race without his twin brother and teammate, Simon Yates, who had crashed and out with a broken collar bone in stage-3.
GC before Today’s Selcuk summit finish
|1||1||Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis)||12:46:31|
|2||2||Adam Yates (OGE)||@0:06|
|3||3||Romain Hardy (Cofidis)||@0:38|
|4||5||Merhawi Kudus (MTN-Q)||s.t.|
|5||4||Luis Sanchez (Caja Rural)||s.t.|
The race can be followed live on Turkish tv or Eurosport channels.
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