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Having seen his rival Jay McCarthy attack on stages five and six in a bid to get back the time he lose on the stage four summit finish to Elmali, Presidential Tour of Turkey race leader Davide Rebellin has said that he is wary of the Australian.
McCarthy, a 22 year old racing with the Tinkoff Saxo team, finished fourth on Tuesday’s stage. He dropped one minute 20 seconds to Rebellin and since then has done what he could to try to get some of the time back.
He attacked in the finale of stage four and carried a gap right into the final kilometre. However he and breakaway companion Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) were caught inside the final 600 metres.
McCarthy tried again on Thursday’s fifth stage and while he was unable to shake off Rebellin, he sprinted in third on the stage, crossing the line just behind the victor Sacha Moldo (Lampre-Merida) and Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA).
That display gives Rebellin notice that McCarthy must be closely watched.
“I’ve seen that Kristijan Durasek is climbing strongly, although it’s a four kilometre final climb tomorrow, with a hard finish,” he said. “I mention him because he’s closest to me in GC.
“But McCarthy was very good today, so he could pose a threat on the final climb. I expect a lot of attacks at the foot of the final climb tomorrow.”
Rebellin said that he made a deliberate choice not to chase on the fourth stage, reasoning that the move with McCarthy in it didn’t have much of a chance of staying clear.
“I didn’t want to follow his attack because I didn’t want to waste too much energy,” he said. “I knew that it would be hard for him to get there, riding into the wind on long, straight roads. I knew that Greipel would stay at the front with his team, and that a sprint was probably inevitable.”
That’s how things worked out, but McCarthy’s aggression showed him that Rebellin needed to keep a close eye on his rival.
“It was a difficult day,” he said on Thursday afternoon in the post-race press conference. “The race route wasn’t easy, and there were many attacks again today. We knew that the sprinters teams would work towards the end, given the characteristics of the stage finish.
“I didn’t know the final, but I was told that it was uphill, so I wanted to be up front. I knew I had not to finish on the wrong side of any splits and lose time. So the main thing for me today was to stay up front.”
That decision paid off well as it meant that he was on the right side of the four second split that many riders experienced.
Rebellin is a very experienced rider who rode the race before in the past. He regards Friday as the big threat, but also indicates that the following day could be worrying.
“On Saturday, there is a 1st cat climb near the end, with a descent. It is dangerous terrain. For whoever is strongest, it is their last chance,” he said. “I’ll have to work hard with the team. It could be a dangerous stage.”
He has the consolation of his current good form plus the buffer he has built up. He will head into stage six holding a 22 second lead over Durasek. Eduardo Sepulveda (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) is 54 seconds back, while McCarthy is at one minute 20 seconds.
”What keeps me well is the life I live”
If Rebellin does indeed hold on to win overall on Sunday, the result will be a controversial one for the race. The Presidential Tour of Turkey has seen two champions stripped of their titles in the past three years; in 2012 the Bulgarian Ivailo Gabrovski tested positive for EPO after winning the race. One year later, his Torku team-mate Mustafa Sayar was snagged for the same substance and also lost the result.
Rebellin’s controversial streak is thanks to his positive test for the EPO-like substance CERA in the 2008 Olympic road race championships. He was second there but lost the silver medal when it emerged he had been using the previously-undetectable hematocrit booster.
As a result of this, plus his 43 years of age, there has been a certain amount of scepticism about his Presidential Tour of Turkey performance.
Asked about this, he insisted that there were logical reasons for his good form.
“What keeps me well is the life I live,” he claimed. “I do things better than I did ten years ago. For instance, my diet, my approach to rest and recuperation are all better than 10 years go, which is where my results come from.
“I’m [also] doing all the controls that everyone else does.”
The answer wasn’t as emphatic as people wanted to hear vis-à-vis doping.
Perhaps because of those lingering questions, the organisers of the Giro d’Italia reportedly told the team that neither Rebellin nor his-equally controversial team-mate Stefan Schumacher were welcome.
The Italian steered clear of answering specific questions on the matter this week, playing down the talk that the Giro d’Italia organisers had made such a demand.
“There has been a programme with the team early in the season,” he said. “My programme was to do the Classics and shorter stage races. The Giro is three weeks and it is a little bit hard to do. That is the programme and probably it will be respected as it was decided early in the season.
“This [response] is from a professional side. From a personal side, as an Italian, of course maybe this could be the last chance to participate in the Giro. So I am a bit sorry to probably not do it.”
The decision undoubtedly was tough for him as it is a missed opportunity that he would otherwise have grabbed. Still, he’s come to terms with it.
“It is life, it is a job. You have to make the programme with your team and then respect it as the team is composed of many, many riders.”
He said that his team-mates would do what they can to emerge best. “I don’t pay attention to other riders, just to my career and my races.”