The 55th Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey takes place between April 16 and 21 and tackles a bold new route around the northwest of the country.
As the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey enters its 55th year, the race is now well-established on the global sporting stage. Following many years of earning its high repute and respect amongst the major professional cycling teams, the event’s status was upgraded to World Tour status in 2016, a tag only applied to the highest ranking of bike races around the world.
Traditionally, the race followed a familiar route along the southern coastline from Alanya to Istanbul, a route that largely favored the faster sprinters of the professional cycling peloton. This year’s race will be based on the tour's original route, which was initially known as the "Tour of Marmara."
The route will focus on the northwestern part of Turkey and will be unfamiliar to riders and race followers alike. The race starts and finishes in Istanbul, and, during its six stages, will cover a total of 993.4 kilometers and almost fully encircle the Sea of Marmara.
On gaining its World Tour spurs in 2016, the race rescheduled its annual staging to October, towards the tail end of the professional cycling season. This is a time when many of the leading riders were weary and had already called time on their racing for the year. Returning to its traditional springtime slot is something that most riders will welcome. It should also mean that the competition will be fresher and more intense, making for a great spectacle for race followers too.
Although the “big guns” of cycling often carry off the laurels of victory, it’s far from a foregone conclusion, particularly in this race where the underdogs often have their day. Here’s a rough guide to what you can expect from this year’s race.
Stage 1, April 16, Istanbul-Tekirdağ (156.7 km)
The opening stage of any multiday race is traditionally reserved as a showcase for the sprinter teams. You’re most likely to see early breakaway attempts from the lesser-known riders and teams, all eager to take their chances for glory, and also to gain vital TV exposure for their sponsors. Ultimately the powerful teams of the sprinters will try and leave them dangling until the final kilometers, where their finely calculated efforts to deliver their fastest finisher to the line should bring the whole field together just in time for a fast and furious showdown.
The starting point of the first stage is Sultanahmet Square, surrounded with unique historic structures such as Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Irene, and Topkapı Palace. Therefore, it will be an exciting start for riders. The route follows the northern shores of the Sea of Marmara for 156.7 kilometers extending from the breathtaking and impressive touristic region of Istanbul to reach its conclusion in Tekirdağ, a seaside city flanked by a mountain and lined with popular beaches.
Stage 2, April 17, Tekirdağ-Eceabat
Tekirdağ, the starting point of the second stage, is a calm city by the sea. Riders will start the race, with the lasting taste of the famous Tekirdağ meatballs they will surely try the night before! Expect to see many breakaway attempts during these early stages, with riders desperately trying to open up gaps that could give them a fighting chance of a stage victory.
As the race enters its second half, the roads flatten out, which is when the major teams are likely to start to take a little more control over the race. These are unfamiliar roads to the riders, and today the stage ends with a short climb, which is something assured to make for a tense finale. These short climbs are enough to define not only the stage, but also the lead of the race.
The riders will go through the Gallipoli Peninsula Historic National Park, which witnessed World War I, and see the traces of the Battle of Çanakkale. The stage runs through the Gallipoli Peninsula, a poignant day for all of the riders, especially the Australian, New Zealander and Turkish riders, with Anzac Day just around the corner. The peninsula promises a thrilling competition overlooking the steep coasts beside the Dardanelles, ragged coves, and long beaches.
Stage 3, April 18, Çanakkale-Edremit
Crossing over from European roads back into Asia is a trademark of the race. This stage is a tough one to predict for the riders and the teams, as there is a long but steady climb just over halfway through the day. In reality the climb is probably not enough to steal the day from the sprinters, as there is a flat 35 kilometers run-in to the finish. During this stage, which begins in Çanakkale, home to Troy, the rides will proceed as if turning the pages of The Iliad. The highlights for spectators here include the recently opened Troy Museum.
Stage 4, April 19, Balıkesir-Bursa (194.3 km)
Bursa appeared as a finish stage in last year’s race and should make for an electric competition. It’s a flat-rolling day overall, which crumples up and down some more inside the final 35 kilometers and ends with a short sharp, uphill finish.
This should be an exciting day for spectators, and a nervous one for the riders hoping to be in the hunt for the stage and overall race victory. The real showdown will surely come inside the final 5 kilometers. If the pace is hot enough (and it probably will be), the pure sprinters will have their lungs full just trying to stay at the head of the race on this final run-in. Those who do hold on here will also be looking at the bigger prize of earning vital seconds in the hunt for the race lead.
In the Balıkesir-Bursa stage, the riders should not be surprised to see pelicans, herons, and storks soaring above their heads as the Manyas Bird Paradise National Park and the town of Gölyazı in Lake Ulubat are very close.
Stage 5, April 20, Bursa-Kartepe (164.1 km)
Bursa, the starting point of the fifth stage, was one of the early capitals of the Ottoman Empire. Riders will set out among caravanserais, mosques, inns, and bathhouses. Whatever has gone on before in the race, today will overshadow everything. This is what is known as the “Queen stage” -the day when the overall winner of the race is most likely to be decided.
The early part of the stage rolls along the southern coastline of the Sea of Marmara and then heads towards the ultimate showdown. This battle royal will take place on the 15-kilometer climb to the summit finish at Kartepe. This climb will make for a ferocious day, where the race’s climbers will go head to head in a battle against gravity and each other.
Stage 6, April 21, Sakarya-Istanbul (172.4 km)
In this stage, riders will be captured in pictures by photographers with the Gulf of Izmit and Lake Sapanca in the background.
The overall honors for the race should (barring accident) be decided by now, although the differences between the leading contenders may only be seconds, as has been the case in the past. This could well take the overall battle right to the final curtain call in the center of Sultanahmet, where the stage finishes, and where the tour started out six days earlier.
The going will be fast and controlled -until the final kilometer that is. There’s a sharp and twisty final run-in to the finish line, which completely blows the race apart, opening it up to an opportunistic victory as well as a last-gasp chance to grab the overall title by a GC (General Classification) rider. There are also sprinters who can just about hang in there for this final free-for-all fight for the stage honors.
If you want to see the crunch stage moments live, head down the hill some -this is where the action will take place.