MTN-Qhubeka back Berhane for a second overall win at the Tour of Turkey

Eritrean rider off to a rocky start due to travel delays

Natnael Berhane (MTN-Qhubeka) is hoping a sleepless night will not hold him back in his bid to win the Tour of Turkey for a second time.

The Eritrean rider, while at Europcar, finished second in the 2013 race but was retrospectively bumped up after winner Mustafa Sayar tested positive for EPO a couple of months later.

While Theo Bos and Youcef Reguigui try their hands in the sprints, MTN-Qhubeka are backing Berhane for another overall win, but things got off to a terrible start as a nightmare journey meant he arrived at the race just an hour before the start of the first stage.

“I started from Pisa on Saturday afternoon but I was delayed a lot of times,” Berhane told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 2. “When I arrived in Istanbul they said they would have the plane [to Antalya] at 1:30am but we were waiting again for 2 hours 30 until 4am. Then another one-hour delay before we got on the plane.”

After a short internal flight of just over an hour, Berhane and his panicked team staff were tasked with getting him from the airport in Antalya to the hotel near the stage start in Alanya, 165km down the southwestern coast.

“I came to the hotel at 9.30am [with sign-on at 10.30], I took a shower and breakfast and went to the start,” said the 24-year-old. “It was a long day and a long night. I didn’t sleep the whole time and I went straight to race.

“Yesterday it was quite hard for me because my legs were really shit, but I am so happy I finished with the group without losing any time. After the race I was asleep immediately until dinner, then asleep again until this morning.”

With the first two stages designed for the sprinters, Berhane has been concentrating on conserving as much energy as possible for Tuesday, when the GC men will be called into action.

The queen stage features a category 2 climb and two category 1 climbs, the latter taking them to the summit finish in Elmali and promising 650 metres of vertical incline in the last five kilometres. It is a climb with happy memories for Berhane, who won there en route to overall victory two years ago.

“I’ll be ok for tomorrow,” he said. “Yesterday and today I do an easy ride and tomorrow full gas.

“I was thinking about that [GC] and was really ready for this race with good motivation to be there, and I hope things will be good for me.”

Berhane is also looking ahead to July when MTN will become the first African team to ride the Tour de France, although he is not sure if he’ll be selected.

“I hope to be good for the Tour de France if I ride it – that’s my biggest goal. I will do [the Tour of] Norway and [the Tour des] Fjords, and then maybe the [Critérium du] Dauphiné but I’m not sure about that.”

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