8 May 2017 12:08 (UTC+04:00)
By Laman Ismayilova
"Tour d'Azerbaidjan-2017", a 2.1 multi-stage bicycle race of the UCI Europe Tour, ended with the victory of Israel Cycling Academy, while Synergy Baku Cycling Project won home race for first time.
Latvian Krists Neilands took what was expected to be a selective bunch sprint and made it his own with an unexpected attack with two of the five laps of Freedom Square remaining on the 158km city circuit in Baku.
Twenty two teams from 18 countries took part in the sixth edition of the event, which started in 2012 as the Heydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour (U23).
With four hard stages in their legs, the peloton took off in a sunny Baku for the final stage of the Tour d'Azerbaidjan. After 89km of racing the parcours entered the Baku Circuit for five laps of 14km, including a 3rd category climb at the iconic Flame Towers.
Right from the start a group took off for the day’s breakaway: a group of six riders including Kohei Uchima (Nippo - Vini Fantini), Remy Di Grégorio (Delko Marseille Provence Ktm), Ryu Suzuki (Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team), Nils Friedl (Hrinkow Advarics Cycleang), Lubos Malovec (Dukla Banska Bystrica) and Emils Liepins (Rietumu Banka - Riga).
The six managed to gain a maximum advantage of 3'15", but behind the race was controlled very well by the Synergy Baku Cycling Project.
The gap to the leaders dropped gradually as the riders entered the Baku Circuit, at which point the escape split into two groups. Going into the final lap and a half the last two riders out front were caught by the peloton and that was the moment Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy) took off in pursuit of stage victory.
The lanky 22-year-old launched a solo effort with less than 23km to go to score his first professional race win on what was the fifth and final stage of the UCI Europe Tour road race.
Turkish Olympian Ahmet Örken (Torku Şekerspor) outsprinted the field 21 seconds later to claim second place with stage 4 winner Edwin Avila (Team Illuminate) in third and Italian Olympian Liam Bertazzo (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) in fourth. Neilands’ ICA team-mate and former WorldTour rider Guillaume Boivin (CAN) rounded out the Top 5.
“It was our plan to go for the sprint with our best sprinter, Mihkel Räim,” said Neilands. “But my legs felt good and I decided to just go for it and to see where it would end. So when we caught the leading group I gave all I had and I’m glad that it worked out well.
“I’m really happy I could deliver this win for my team, it’s a great end of a successful Tour d’Azerbaijan for us.”
Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) defended his blue GC jersey and the red KOM jersey with success, and as an added extra he received the jersey for Best Azeri rider.
“I’m glad that I was able to win the GC, KOM and to become Best Azeri,” said Pozdnyakov. “It is a really important race for us so we really wanted to do well on home ground.
“My team worked hard for me and after my stage win in Ismayilli I knew I had a good chance to win the GC because I gained a big gap over my competitors,” he continued. “After yesterday, I knew we had a good chance of winning the Tour today, and my team helped really well to do so.”
The magenta Young jersey was successfully held by John Anderson Rodriguez Salazar (Delko Marseille Provence KTM).
The best team at this year's Tour d'Azerbaidjan is Kolss Cycling Team, who finished with four riders in the top ten.
Stage 5 classification, top 3
1. Krists Neilands, LAT, Israel Cycling Academy, 3:53:56
2. Ahmet Örken, TUR, Torku Şekerspor, +0:21
3. Edwin Avila, COL, Team Illuminate, s.t.
Final general classification, top 3
1. Kirill Pozdnyakov, AZE, Synergy Baku Cycling Project, 20:10:08
2. Hermann Pernsteiner, AUT, Amplatz-BMC, +0:46
3. Oleksandr Polivoda, UKR, Kolss Cycling Team, +1:12
Race Leader (Blue Jersey): Kirill Pozdnyakov, AZE, Synergy Baku Cycling Project
Points Leader (Green Jersey): Edwin Avila, COL, Team Illuminate
Mountains leader (Red Jersey): Kirill Pozdnyakov, AZE, Synergy Baku Cycling Project
Best Young Rider (Purple Jersey): John Anderson Rodriguez, COL, Delko Marseille-Provence KTM
Teams classification: Kolss Cycling Team, 60:34:20
Laman Ismayilova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Lam_Ismayilova
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