Following his third place overall at the Tour of Morocco earlier this month, Ivailo Gabrovski was considered a potential troublemaker for the nine ProTeams and the 14 Pro Continental teams lining up at the Presidential Tour of Turkey, but the way he soloed to victory in the queen stage to Elmali astonished a few people.
The 34-year-old Bulgarian was welcomed like a hero by the applause of race director Abdurrahman Açikalin and the crowd yelling "Turkiye! Turkiye!". He carried the Turkish flag on stage since he now rides for local team Konya Torku Seker Spor.
Gabrovski has been somewhat of a drifter after a promising start to his career, which took off in 2001 when he finished sixth in the Brixia Tour, and second at the GP Camaiore where the photo-finish was needed to declare Michele Bartoli the winner. He won also the Tour de l'Ain and stage 1 of the Tour de Poitou-Charentes (second overall).
"I've cruised all over the world for racing before I joined this team," Gabrovski told Cyclingnews. "But I developed as a cyclist in France. I'm proud to speak French and I owe everything to [former Festina sport director and now riders' agent] Michel Gros who gave me my first contract with Jean Delatour [in 2000]."
He has changed teams frequently since then, moving to Oktos when Jean Delatour folded in 2002. He has ridden for Miche from Italy, Hemus from Bulgaria, Flanders and Storez Ledecq Matériaux in Belgium, Hemus again, then Greek outfit Heraklion and Exergy in the USA, racking up 49 international victories.
While on Oktos in 2003 he was prevented from racing the Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen when he came in over the hematocrit limit. His manager defended him, saying he had a naturally high hematocrit. However, in 2005, he was prevented from riding the world championship in Madrid after failing another blood test conducted by the UCI.
One of Gabrovski's best prior victories was the 2007 Tour of Turkey, when the race was classified by the UCI at 2.2. "Now it's a race of a much higher level," Gabrovski said of the event, which became 2.1 in 2008 and 2.HC in 2010. "It's a great victory for me and my team."
"I decided to attack from far out [8km from the hilltop finish] to anticipate the action of the big teams like Astana with Vinokourov. Everyone focused on the final three kilometers. In fact, these were the three hardest kilometers of my whole cycling career. I didn't know that I was increasing my lead continuously [he crossed the line with 1:29 over runner up Alexandr Dyachenko from Astana]. I just gave everything to thank my fans in Bulgaria, the owner of our team and all the people who have believed in me. The support of the Turkish crowd up here also touched my heart."
Despite riding for a Continental team against more reputed outfits, Gabrovski was confident that he'll keep the Turquoise jersey till the end in Istanbul on Sunday. "I'll defend this jersey at any cost," he warned. His allies during the last five stages might well be the teams of the sprinters. They form the majority of the peloton at the 48th Presidential Tour of Turkey and they'll work for bunch sprint finishes, but ProTeams and Pro Continental teams might as well combine forces to dethrone the leader of a Continental team not submitted to the biological passport.