Ahmet Orken might only be about to embark on his first season as a professional with the Israel Cycling Academy, but he already has lofty ambitions. The 24-year-old fast man from Konya in Turkey is his country's top rider and has his eyes set on sprinting's cream of the crop on the world stage.
Short-term, he also wants to make history for his country by riding the Giro d'Italia next year, but as a rookie in the professional ranks, he adds that he's more than willing to put in the graft and help out his teammates too.
"I am a sprinter so I want to be able to race against the best sprinters in the world. I would like to be successful against them," he told Cyclingnews at the team's camp in Israel last month, with Turkish journalist Ali Çolak assisting in translation. "Our racing schedule is not yet sorted but I want to help the team whenever I can and wherever I can. I accept that and if we get an invitation to ride the Giro then I would like to be the first Turkish rider to ride a Grand Tour and ride at the Giro."
Orken has already achieved a lot as the first rider from his country to sign a pro contract, having spent six seasons with his home team Konya Torku Şekerspor. As well as looking to out-gun the likes of Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria in the bunch, he wants to use his success to help his compatriots reach the higher ranks of the sport.
"It is an example for the other riders in Turkey that if they work at it then they can race anywhere. I am happy to be an example for them."
Being a professional was not an end goal to begin with for Orken. Cycling was more of a hobby. It was hard for local coaches to ignore him though, as he claimed victories in the road race and time trial in the novice category at the national championships and the Balkan championships at the age of 16. In 2010, he doubled up again at the national championships, this time in the junior category.
Later that year Orken left the road briefly and decided to target the 2011 European Track Championships in Portugal, where he won the Omnium.
Following his success, Orken was keen to stay on the track, encouraged by his coaches who were convinced that he could win Olympic medals on the boards. Unfortunately, a lack of a velodrome and limited funding meant he had to give it up. However, it was in this time that he met Israel Cycling Academy manager Ran Margaliot, who had spent a season racing on the WorldTour the year before.
"I know Ran from 2011. We met then and he always believed that I would become successful. I had a lot of success this year," explained Orken. "I won quite a few races and I was on the podium in almost all of my races. In most of the races, the Israel Cycling Academy was also there and they saw my potential. We spoke at the end of the season and now I am here."
Orken took four victories this season, including two at the Tour of Quinghai Lake and the Turkish national time trial title. Orken's move to the Israel Cycling Academy came in September, just before he went to compete at his home race the Tour of Turkey, where he finished second on the penultimate stage behind Sam Bennett.
The signing was an interesting one given that relationships between Israel and Turkey have been tense for several years. Diplomatic ties were downgraded in 2010 following the Gaza flotilla raid and it was only last year that their ambassadors were reinstated. Margaliot praised Orken's decision as strong and courageous when announcing the move, but Orken played it down.
"There could be a political crisis between Israel and Turkey but it is the same anywhere in the world. A political crisis could happen anywhere between any countries. It's not something special. Sport has no language, no unique religion so it's always a bridge between people," he said.
There is no doubt that Orken carries a lot of pressure on his shoulders as he leads the way for Turkish cycling, but this quiet sprinter is not going to let it get to him as he tries to reach the top.
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