The riders of the 58th Presidential Cycling Tour of Türkiye were shocked by the difficulty and the beauty of the unprecedented climb to Babadağ in Fethiye. Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko who’s got the highest profile among the GC contenders reached the top solo after a brutal effort to claim the 40th win of his pro career. He preceded former German mountain-biker Ben Zwiehoff of Bora-Hansgrohe and his Colombian team-mate from Astana Harold Tejada.

“This was the hardest climb of my life as a cyclist!”, Lutsenko described in the post-race press conference. “Especially at the end of the season, it’s hard but even before the last climb, the previous one was very hard too. For the last one only, we’ve done one hour of climbing always at the limit, so yes, I can confirm this was the hardest climb of my cycling career. I never experienced anything as hard before.”
It was a short stage with only 104km to cover. After one hour of racing, a breakaway finally took shape with Umberto Poli (Novo Nordisk), Robigzon Oyola (Team Medellin) and Oliver Mattheis (BikeAid). They were chased down by Lennert Teugels (Bingoal WB) and Tobias Nolde (P&S Benotti) but Oyola continued on his own as the escapees tackled the cat. 1 climb whose summit was located at km 67.9. He crested it alone in the lead and remained at the front until the bottom of the uphill to Babadağ.

“On those 18km of climbing, I had to go with my head too”, Lutsenko explained. Frenchman Alexis Guérin rode away solo but was caught by a group of nine riders with 10km to go. They were Domen Novak and Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates), Lutsenko and Tejada (Astana), Florian Lipowitz, Anton Palzer and Zwiehoff (Bora-Hansgrohe), Ander Okamika (Burgos BH) and Alex Martin (EOLO-Kometa). Vine lost contact earlier than expected. It became a four man leading group with two from Astana (Lutsenko and Tejada) and two from Bora-Hansgrohe (Zwiehoff and Lipowitz). Tejada sacrificed himself for Lutsenko who rode Zwiehoff off in the final kilometre.

“I had to control my rivals from Bora-Hansgrohe but I also had to control myself”, Lutsenko added. “I had to stay focused. Luckily my friend Harold [Tejada] was pulling, especially in the last part of the climb. I only did the final part for going for the win. Harold did a great job but not only him. The whole team took part in this win, also our sprinters pulled in the first part of the stage. Even Gleb Syritsa, a rider whose weight is 90kg, rode for me up the hill!”

“It helped to be a mountain biker for the descent before the last climb”, said Zwiehoff who won the European title for MTB mixed relay in 2015 before turning pro on the road in 2021. “It was pretty technical. My team-mate Luis-Joe Lührs crashed. I hope he’s OK. Also for the last 3km of the race on cobblestones, it was also not bad to be a mountain biker. I’ve tried to win my first pro race today. I went pretty deep with 10km to go. Then I knew that Lutsenkois very strong. I’ve tried to surprise him before one km to go but he’s very experienced. I did my best so I’m pretty happy to finish second. It’s a solid result.”

It was the 40th victory of Lutsenko who won the individual time trial at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last Thursday, two days after coming second to his team-mate and compatriot Evgeny Fedorov in the road race.

“I’m on the right track for winning the Presidential Cycling Tour of Türkiye”, the Astana star rider commented. “But it’s only stage 3 today, there’s still a long way to go, there are other hard stages, I’ll have to control but I might as well try and win one more stage. We’ll see. In the first two days, I suffered the jetlag after the trip from the China, I already felt much better today.”

“This is beautiful race and a very nice way to finish the season”, he concluded. “In 2018, I lost the overall win by not even one second. We were equal on time with Edu Prades but I had won a stage. This time I’m motivated for winning the overall. We have a great team. We can play our cards for the final victory.