On Monday 17th February six riders: Ryan Christensen, Dan Pearson, Jacob Scott, Max Stedman, Andy Tennant and Rory Townsend supported by three staff: DS Simon Holt, mechanic Eoin O’Donohoe and sports masseur Marie Lynn from the Canyon dhb p/b Soreen team headed off to Turkey for the first time to take part in the 3rd Tour of Antalya powered by Akra.
Newly upgraded to a UCI 2.1 four stage tour, the race took place between Thursday 20th and Sunday 23rd February and had the Akra hotel group and Corenden Airlines as the key sponsors.
Antalya, a historic city bordered by the Taurus mountains on the Turkish Mediterranean coast is renowned for it’s culture and beautiful scenery. The ancient city is said to have been established in 241 BC by Attalos, King of Pergammon who wanted a ‘Heaven on Earth’. As well as acting as a showcase for the beautiful municipality of Antalya, the race aimed to demonstrate the role of cycling as a means of transport with plans to create 124km of cycle routes across the city centre.
Over the four stages the 29 competing teams of six riders including World Tour team Israel Start-Up Nation, five professional, two national and 21 continental teams, rode through some of the region’s most beautiful towns and cities including Konyaalti, Lara, Kemer, Aspendos, Termessos and Side. Staying at the luxurious 5-star Akra hotel in Antalya, the teams wanted for nothing and were able to focus on getting ready for the race to come.
Four jerseys were to be contested during the race, the magenta (pink) jersey for the leader of the General Classification, the yellow Sprinters jersey (with the in-race primes giving sprinters both points and valuable bonus seconds of 3”, 2” and 1”), the orange King of the mountains jersey and the green jersey for the leader of the ‘Natural Beauties Sprints’ (with points available when the riders passed selected natural beauty spots along the routes).
In addition, bonus seconds of 10”, 6” and 4” were available for the first three riders across each stages finishing lines with points awarded to the first five riders. Both these stage bonus seconds and the intermediate sprint prime bonus seconds were to be key in deciding the outcome of the GC.
The Canyon dhb p/b Soreen team’s goals for the Tour were to compete for the likely sprint stages with the lumpy Stage 2 being a good opportunity for Townsend in particular due to his ability to get over some challenging climbs, for Pearson and Stedman to target Stage 3 with it’s summit finish after a longish climb, and to target a top five position on overall GC.
Stage 1: Antalya-Antalya
The first stage was a relatively flat loop with the highest climb of 362m coming just after 120km of the 149km stage that started and finished in Antalya. The KOM prime came after 60km, the natural beauties prime after 86km and the sprint prime at 109km.
With fresh riders and few challenging obstacles on route, the stage had a disorganised finale and with Townsend and Tennant both in their first road race of the year, being boxed-in on the left hand side of the road.
The stage was won by World Tour rider Estonian Mihkel Raim (Israel Start-up Nation) with Slovenian Marko Kump (Aria Mobil) second and as would turn out most significantly for the impact on the race, Belgian Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) taking four bonus seconds in third place.
Townsend and Tennant finished in 21st and 22nd places respectively with the rest of the team finishing safely in the large bunch where 167 riders from a field of 173 were awarded the same time as the winner.
Stage 2: Kemer-Antalya
The 165km long stage started in the town of Kemer, known for its modern marina capable of mooring 320 yachts and access to historical sites, and finished in Cumhuriyet Square in Antalya. The route included three significant climbs with ascents of up to 500 vertical metres at inclines of 5-7%. All the climbs were located within the first 100km of the stage giving an opportunity for a fragmented peloton to regroup in the remaining flat part of the stage. The sprint prime was at 54km, the KOM prime came after 72km and the natural beauties prime at 117km.
Stage 2 took place in terrible weather conditions. Leopard Pro Cycling rode really hard up the second climb and split the race into three groups and Bardiani-CSF-Faizane continued to ride hard until the finish, preventing any regrouping of the peloton.
Townsend, Pearson and Stedman remained in the front group of 54 riders which gradually diminished until the finish by which time only 35 of the original 54 that had broken away (including Townsend, Pearson and Stedman), were left.
The last 5km was ridden on what was by now a treacherous cobbled road where Townsend was unfortunately taken down in a crash. He remounted and chased to get back into the peloton, just missing out on a podium place but taking a hard fought 5th.
The stage was won by Italian Giovanni Lonardi (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) with Belgian Gianni Vermeersh (Alpecin-Fenix) taking six bonus seconds in second and that man Van Rooy taking another four bonus seconds in third. Townsend’s fifth place put him seventh on GC, just ten seconds off the lead. Pearson was 13th on the stage with Stedman 23rd.
Stage 3: Aspendos-Termessos
This relatively short stage of 102km with it’s summit finish after an 8.8km climb at an average of 5.8% was expected to be where the likely GC contenders would make their move and be potentially decisive for the destination of the magenta jersey. It started in the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos and finished at an altitude of 1,050m on the west side of Gulluck mountain near Termessos. Other key points in this stage were the sprint prime at 52km, the natural beauties prime at 81km and the KOM prime at the finish.
The plan for Stage 3 was to ride to the climb in the peloton but with Christensen, Scott and Tennant making sure that Pearson and Stedman were delivered to the bottom of the climb still in contention with Townsend taking them as far up as he could after that.
The initial pace up the climb was set by Leopard Pro Cycling riding on behalf of the Pole Szymon Rekita who won the equivalent stage and the GC in 2019, though had lost 45 seconds the previous day. Sadly for them, Rekita crashed out early on. Half way up the twisting climb, Austrian Riccardo Zoidl (Felbermeyr-Simplon Wels) got away with Italian Allesandro Fancellu (Kometa Astra) and 18 year-old Briton Ben Tullett (Alpecin-Fenix) pulling out a 15 second gap.
With just a couple of kilometres remaining Stedman bridged across with Matteo Badilatti (Israel Start-Up Nation). Zoidl got away in the last kilometre to win by two seconds from Badilatti, fractionally ahead of Stedman who lunged past Fancellu on the line to grab third place and earn four precious bonus seconds. Tullett was 5th at 6 seconds with Vermeesh and Van Rooy in a chasing group at 8 seconds. Pearson was 33rd at 36 seconds.
With the stage being won by Zoidl who had lost 45 seconds in the rain of Stage 2 and Badilatti in second having been gapped by fifteen seconds the previous day, it was Stedman’s lunge for the line that propelled him into the race leaders bright magenta coloured jersey!
Stage 4: Side-Antalya
The final stage started at Side and meandered westwards for 137km along the flat roads near the coast to finish back in Antalya. There was no KOM prime on the stage but what was going to transpire to be the decisive sprint prime where bonus seconds were to be awarded came after 49km and the final natural beauties prime at 116km.
At the start of Stage 4, there were 13 riders who theoretically were in contention for the overall GC being within 10 seconds of Stedman and a team plan that covered all possible eventualities was needed.
After multiple telephone calls with team manager Tim Elverson the previous evening, the tactics to ‘control the controllables’ on Stage 4 were set and everyone knew what their job was to be on the final day. Ideally a break would go and sweep up the sprint prime seconds.
If not, it was imperative that Canyon dhb p/b Soreen deny Van Rooy a win or second place in the prime as that would put him into the GC lead. The final stage sprint was going to rely on the quality sprinters in the field to take the top three places to mop up the outstanding bonus seconds but was something that the team could not control.
Three riders did manage to form a break before the sprint prime but with Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise winding up the pace in particular for Van Rooy, only the Dane Martin Toft Madsen (BHS-PL Beton Bornholm) stayed away to take the prime. Van Rooy was looking good for second place and those two all important bonus seconds when Tennant (who had been honing his sprinting skills on the winter’s International 6-Day circuit) generating over 1500 watts of power burst out of the peloton to seize that second place and limit Van Rooy to just a single bonus second in third place. This vital action saved Stedman’s GC lead which was however, cut to just a single second.
With this being the last chance for a stage win, the big sprinters were out in force to grab their moment of glory. It was 2019 Belgium road race champion Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) resplendent in his national jersey who finished arms aloft. Second was Italian Filippo Fortin (Felbermeyr-Simplon Wels) and to Canyon dhb p/b Soreen team’s relief it was German Lucas Carstensen (Bike Aid) who mopped up the final bonus seconds in third with Vermeersh missing out in fourth. Van Rooy crashed with just a couple of hundred metres to go although he was not in contention for a podium place at the time. After his heroics at the sprint prime, Tennant came through in 8th to take another top 10 finish for the team with Townsend guiding Stedman to finish in 27th and 30th places respectively.
To his and the team’s delight, it was Stedman who claimed overall victory by that single second! Pearson was 24th on GC at 38 seconds with Townsend 43rd at 2 min 53 sec.
This was a fantastic example of how cycle racing is a true team sport, with huge contributions by Christensen, Pearson, Scott, Townsend and Tennant plus DS Holt and the support team both in Turkey and back home, working together to win the GC.
“In bike racing you need a bit of luck which we had, but most importantly you also need a f***ing good team.
They were awesome today. This one’s for the Canyon dhb p/b Soreen riders and staff, a big step for us”
“We only went and did it. Max had 2 seconds going into today’s stage. The aim was let a move go ASAP, that never happened so it was down to me and Rory to make sure we got the intermediate sprint.
Best news ever was Max taking our 1st ever ‘.1’ stage race. It was a team effort, great to ride with Dan, Jacob, Ryan and Rory.”
“Aaaaand relax, really stressful day but managed to keep a hold of the GC by a single second! Great start to the season.”
Written by Paul and Marina Stedman.
1-5, 8-10, 12, 13 – Tour of Antalya
6 – @antalyafestival
7, 11 – Brian Black Hodes