Mustafa Sayar's overall win at the Presidential Tour of Turkey is either a sporting fairytale or something far more insidious, writes Al Hinds.
This isn't NBC questioning Nairo Quintana's performance in the Basque country ignoring a well-trodden, slow and steady development. There are obvious doubts.
There was a rarefied atmosphere ahead of this year’s Presidential Tour of Turkey. The confession of Lance Armstrong, the fallout from the USADA investigation, the ongoing inquiries in Italy have all made cycling observers hyper sensitive to even a sniff of the unbelievable or the incredible.
Turkey however had even more reason to feel the heat of critical eyes. Last year, lest we forget, a 34-year-old Bulgarian, Ivailo Gabrovski, raised eyebrows at the Tour when he rode clear of the field on Stage 3 to Elmali, seven kilometres from the finish, arriving home a minute and a half ahead of the next best on the stage, Astana's Alexandr Dyachenko.
In July of last year it was revealed that Gabrovski had tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO with the second sample confirming the first.
Needless to say, those following this year's edition of the Tour wanted to be sure that the race could boast a clean winner. Can we be sure that that's what we've got in Mustafa Sayar? Well, let's just say his performance doesn't fill me with confidence.
Sayar's story is one that sportswriters love. A young, local rider overcoming an international field, in his home race. Under resourced, against the odds, a sporting fairytale.
And it's possible that Sayar is the real deal. The 24 year old was second overall earlier this season at the Tours de Algerie and Blida. And there's something to be said for a local targeting his local race, as he describes, making it "the world championships" of his season, while other more well-known pros hone their form for so-called bigger races. That's all fairly logical.
But the Tours de Algerie and Blida aren't exactly shining lights on a rider's palmares, and this is a guy that finished third last in the 2012 edition of the Tour. This isn't NBC questioning Nairo Quintana's performance in the Basque country ignoring a well-trodden, slow and steady development. There are obvious doubts.
It's an unfortunate coincidence that Sayar rides for the same team as Gabrovski, Torku Sekerspor. It's more unfortunate still that his riding style, of grinding a big gear interminably on a climb has shades of Riis, Indurain and Ullrich in their primes.
On Stage 6 of this year's race, where Sayar had, like Gabrovski, decimated the field on the race's queen stage - a remarkable performance considering he was riding into a headwind and only gained time after he'd made his attack - Marcel Kittel took to twitter to vent his frustrations at the Turk.
I was not often in my life so angry about a result of someone else. And I see many people around me feeling the same. #TourofTurkey— Marcel Kittel (@marcelkittel) April 26, 2013
Saxo-Tinkoff, in a hastily deleted tweet added that it was:
"A VERY surprising stage win by Mustafa Sayar #tur2013. #Teamsaxotinkoff's Rory Sutherland finished side by side with Berhane."
Sayar was understandably grilled in the press conference after the stage. He was asked directly by a journalist whether he could defend his ride to the criticism of other rider's in the peloton. He said he had nothing to say to them.
Perhaps the best quote from Sayar was the following when asked whether he would have the same problem as Gabrovsky at a later date.
"Gabrovsky was a very good sportsman, but he was too ambitious in doing such a thing. I don’t think I will have the same situation."
I can't hold the quote entirely against him considering Sayar's English isn't perfect, but as soon as I heard it I thought it reminiscent of Floyd Landis's famous "I'm going to say no" when asked whether he'd cheated at the 2006 Tour de France.
To be fair, Sayar's performance isn't entirely unbelievable. From the above data, it is very very good but it's not above the threshold of accepted human performance. It's close, but it's not above it.
Even so, there's a lot of skepticism out there.
I wholeheartedly hope that such skepticism is unfounded, and in a few month's time we get clean tests back from Sayar, and going forward, an unblemished record from him. He could be the rider of his generation, an unheralded talent at the start of a brilliant career.The alternative is tear-your-hair-out-and-bash-fists-into-walls frustrating. Not just because of the context of last year. But because of Sayar’s age. It would be a slap in the face for those that want to believe the sport is turning a page and that a new generation understands the mistakes of the past. How can anyone say we’re moving in the right direction forward if it’s simply business as usual? All I can say is, watch this space.