• Ahmet Orken. (Steve Thomas)Source: Steve Thomas
Just prior to Christmas, Turkish rider Ahmet Orken withdrew from his contract with Israel Cycling Academy due to a heightening in regional tensions.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
26 Dec 2017 - 12:58 PM  UPDATED 26 Dec 2017 - 1:13 PM

Orken, a speedy track racer and road sprinter signed a two-year contract with an eye to starting the 2018 Giro d'Italia in Jerusalem as a Muslim rider on an Israeli team.

The Jerusalem start to the Giro has all but assured that the Israel Cycling Academy Team would be on the start line and was an ideal opening for an aspiring rider like the 25-year-old Orken, more so one from a country where cycling is not yet a mainstream sport.

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Muslim political relations with the US and elsewhere in the west are often tense on the Palestinian issue, and the recent American decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising it as Israel's capital.

Those tensions were lifted further with many nations opposed to the US decision and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a "red line" for Muslims, all perhaps setting the backdrop for Orken's decision.

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Amicable and understanding statements were made by both Orken and the Israel Cycling Academy, with the Turkish rider citing “the effect that the recent events in the Middle East had on me and my family" in a statement released by the team.

"It's the most important thing for me to share with you all about my life," Orken said to Cycling Central. "We exchanged the agreement with the Israeli team for the new season. However, I have decided to continue in my country to keep my family from being more concerned with the growing political tension while I am on the WorldTour.

"I just want to point out that this is not about the place where I live, and that it has nothing to do with my [team] environment or for different reasons. The experience I've made in a short time, the friendship is the most beautiful thing I've ever had."

The decision by Orken, who lives in the central Turkish city of Konya was unexpected but his team said it would be happy to see him back in their colours in the future.

"This is heartbreaking for all of us,” Israel Cycling Academy General Manager Ran Margaliot said. “Ahmet is a great athlete and a great person. He joined our program with a vision and commitment to putting sport and with it, peace above politics.

"While we are disappointed by his decision, we only want what is best for him and his family. The doors of Israel Cycling Academy will be open for Ahmet and we certainly hope to see him rejoin us.”

Orken's plan for the immediate future is set to include racing with the Konya based Salcano Sakarya BB Pro Team, an MTB based squad which has recently signed a number of Turkey's top road riders.