Turkish time trial champion Orken signs for Israel Cycling Academy
Team a 'platform for sports diplomacy,' says Margaliot
Israel Cycling Academy's presence at the 2018 Giro d'Italia, which starts in Jerusalem, seems to be a certainty, but team backer Sylvan Adams played a straight bat when asked about the prospect earlier this week, carefully stressing that RCS Sport will not formally divulge the four invitees until January.
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With the Giro in mind, Israel Cycling Academy has looked to add WorldTour experience to its roster, with Ben Hermans (BMC) and Rubén Plaza (Orica-Scott) the two most high-profile signings during its recent transfer campaign.
In Jerusalem on Monday, Israel Cycling Academy announced another a new signing whose significance is not limited to the sporting sphere. Four-time Turkish national time trial champion Ahmet Orken will ride for the team in 2018, and will be the first rider from a Muslim-majority country to ride for the team.
Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel were downgraded following the Gaza flotilla raid of 2010, and though their ambassadors were restored last year following intense negotiations, relations remain cool.
"We try to use the team as a platform for sports diplomacy, we want to change what people think of our country," said Israel Cycling Academy manager Ran Margaliot, who paid tribute to Orken's decision to sign for the team. "Israel and Turkey haven't had the best relations in the last years, but you are taking a very strong and courageous decision to race with us."
Orken has ridden for the Torku Sekerspor squad since 2012, and will become the first Turkish rider to compete at Pro Continental level. He was presented to the media wearing the star and crescent-bedecked skinsuit of Turkish time trial champion, and took his place on stage alongside Israeli road race champion Roy Goldstein and time trial champion Guy Sagiv.
"There can be problems between countries, but when you just put that to the background, people can be friends with each other. Next year, I'll race with Israeli teammates, and we'll all help each other," Orken said.
"I received great support from all of my friends and supporters in Turkey for my move to the Israeli group. Everyone was in favour. I have had a great opportunity to progress as a rider and this is my main motivation, but I am also a great believer in helping peace and brotherhood through sport."
The 24-year-old Orken hails from Konya, near Ankara, and competed for Turkey at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In 2011, he was European Omnium champion at junior level. A strong time triallist and rapid finisher, he claimed two stage wins at the Tour of Qinghai Lake this season, and a stage victory at the Tour of Serbia.
"I really want to ride the Giro," Orken said. "No Turkish rider has ever done that. Cycling in Turkey has developed a lot in the last few years and now I want to achieve my dream with Israel Cycling Academy."
The 2018 Giro gets underway with a 10.1-kilometre time trial in Jerusalem on May 4, and will feature stage finishes in Tel Aviv and Eilat before the race caravan proceeds to Sicily for stage 4.
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