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by Shane Stokes
April 27, 2015
Taking up where he left off last year, Mark Cavendish followed up on his four stage victories in the 2014 Presidential Tour of Turkey when he blasted home first at the end of stage one in Antalya on Sunday.
The Etixx-QuickStep narrowly beat Australian rider Caleb Ewan in their first ever head to head sprint, but the gap between the two gave the latter considerable motivation for the coming days. Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani CSF) was third, while past stage winners Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Theo Bos (MTN Qhubeka) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) were further back in fourth, fifth and eighth.
“I won this stage as well last year,” Cavendish said, thinking back twelve months. “We talked about the competition at the team meeting and we recognized that there are a lot of big sprinters at the race this year. So we know it would be chaotic, and it really was in the last kilometres.”
However Mark Renshaw, who spoke at length about his partnership with Cavendish before the race, was able to get things back on track.
“[He] kind of rounded the troops and they did incredible,” Cavendish continued. “Tom Boonen came back to racing from his injury today, and Mark had to actually tell him to go easy when he first went. He was riding that strong.
“In the sprint I looked behind me, and then I ran up on Mark, so I built up my speed for the jump. When I went I was happy about it. It was nice to finish the job of the guys after what they did today.”
Stage one of the race started in bright and warm conditions in the seaside town of Alanya and covered 145 kilometres. Very early on five riders nipped clear and were given space to build a lead. Together Adam Phelan (Drapac Racing), Federico Zurlo (UnitedHealthcare), Luis Mas (Caja Rural), Mario Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF) all working to get a three and a half minute gap.
However the sprinters’ teams knuckled down later on and hauled them back with twenty kilometres remaining. They then worked to manoeuvre their riders into position, a tussle ultimately won by Etixx-QuickStep and Cavendish.
Ewan said he was frustrated with how things unfolded in the finale.
“It was a really good start,” he said, speaking of his first showdown with Cavendish and how close he went to the victory. “[But] I think some of the smaller teams were doing really silly stuff and that makes for a really dangerous race. That really annoyed me.”
Asked what he would have done differently had things been more ordered, he said he would have stayed on Cavendish’s wheel rather than having to come from further back.
“But when people are doing silly things and willing to crash for it, it is not working making half the field come down,” he explained.
Still just 20 years of age, he is in his first season as a pro rider. He has been squaring up against some of the best in the sport and taking on Cavendish is the latest in that regard.
“It feels little bit surreal. It’s kind of weird racing him, I guess,” he said. “I was always watching him growing up, and now actually racing him, and not just racing with him, but, you know, when you’re right up there sprinting against him, it’s a pretty surreal feeling.”
As for Ruffoni, the 24 year old Bardiani-CSF rider was relatively satisfied with the outcome. “I hoped to do well today. I’m happy with my third place. I am always trying to improve and I know that I can do even better,” he said.
“I had to come from a long way back but this performance gives me great hope for the rest of the Tour of Turkey.”
Both Ewan and Ruffoni will try again for a stage win on Monday’s second stage, a 182 kilometre road race from Alanya to Antalya. However things are lumpier in the finale, potentially opening the door for non-sprinters to have a go.