Berhane Wins Stage Three, Turquoise Jersey in 2013 Tour of Turkey
Berhane Wins Stage Three, Turquoise Jersey in 2013 Tour of Turkey

Europcar’s Natnael Berhane took the General Classification lead in the 2013 Presidential Tour of Turkey cycling race with five fine kilometers of climbing and a 180-meter spring up the extremely steep mountaintop finish on Gogubeli Gecidi.

Two-time African cycling champion (2012–2013) Natnael Berhane watched and waited as Omega Pharma Quickstep rider Serge Pauwels attacked a third of the way up the ten-kilometer final climb, knowing that it would be unlikely that Pauwels could sustain his pace up the ever-steepening ascent.

When Astana’s Kevin Seeldraeyers made a move two km later, Berhane decided he had to respond, and the pair set off up the mountain after Pauwels, catching the Omega rider at the 4-km mark, shortly before the climb’s gradient started climbing into double figures.

Berhane’s calculations were right: when the steepest section started, Pauwels slowed, leaving Berhane the leader.

Four riders bridged the ten-second gap from the peloton, including King of the Mountains winner Mustafa Sayars of the local Torku Sekerspor team, with Angelo Pagani (Bardiani,) Darwin Atapuma (Colombia,) and Maxime Médérel (Sojasun.)

Sayar took over at the front from Berhane, determined to make a strong showing in his last day as King of the Mountains (breakaway rider Mauro Finetto of Vini Fantini took the jersey before dropping back near the start of the final climb.) The Europcar rider was content to let him lead.

Sayar was turning a huge gear, relying on pure power, while Berhane was spinning a smaller gear and using his lungs as much as his legs. As the slope steadily increased, these two dropped Pagani and Atapuma; Seeldraeyers clung to the leaders as Sayars kept up a powerful pace.

A few hundred meters back, the remaining dozen or so chasers were all at their limit, no one could mount an attack as the leaders crossed under the one-kilometer banner. Finally Cameron Meyer of Orica-GreenEdge made an effort but he didn’t have enough time or energy. Meyer pushed hard for half a kilometer but never quite caught the front group; he eventually finished seventh.

Berhane and Sayar rode side by side through the final 300 meters. Just past the 200-meter banner, as the slope finally eased somewhat, Berhane made his move. He didn’t shift to a higher gear to attack with power—he knew his tired thighs couldn’t support the load, and his lungs couldn’t fuel the muscles. Instead, he increased his cadence, spinning faster to accelerate away from Sayar, who couldn’t turn his much larger gear any faster.

Natnael Berhane now leads the 2013 Tour of Turkey by ten seconds, a lead he could well maintain until the sixth stage. Stage Four, 147 km from Gocek to Marmaris, has only a single Cat Two climb 30 km from the finish and will either end in a bunch sprint or be won by a low-placed breakaway rider. Likewise, Stage 5 (183 km, Marmaris to Turgutreis) has a single Cat 1 climb and a second, uncategorized climb in the first half, but will also probably end in a sprint.

Stage Six, 182 km from Bodrum to Selcuk, ends with a Cat Two climb and a Cat One mountaintop finish, where all the climbers will test Berhane’s legs. If Berhane can hold on, he should get through the final two stages and take the GC victory.

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