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Mihkel Raim claims opening stage in Azerbaijan

Raim claims opening stage in Azerbaijan

03/05/2017 at 14:05Updated 03/05/2017 at 14:09

Estonian national road race champion Mihkel Raim was all smiles atop the podium after winning the opening stage of the sixth edition of Tour d’Azerbaijan in Sumgayit on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old Israel Cycling Academy rider claimed the bunch sprint over Latvian Emails Liepins (Rietumu Banka-Riga) and Italian Pierpaolo de Negri (Nippo-Vini Fantini) at the end of the 148.6-kilometre kickoff to the five-stage UCI Europe Tour road race.

Stage winner Mihkel Räim (Israel Cycling Academy) stands atop the stage 1 podium, alongside Emails Liepins (Rietumu Banka-Riga) and Italian Pierpaolo de Negri (Nippo-Vini Fantini) at the Tour d'Azerbaijan opener on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Photo: VeloImages

Stage winner Mihkel Räim (Israel Cycling Academy) stands atop the stage 1 podium, alongside Emails Liepins (Rietumu Banka-Riga) and Italian Pierpaolo de Negri (Nippo-Vini Fantini) at the Tour d'Azerbaijan opener on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Photo: VeloImagesEurosport

“I might be the happiest Estonian in Azerbaijan,” said Raim. “I am very happy and proud of my teammates and pretty much did all the work and I just finished it.”

“Our plan was to not go to the front very early because it was fast and a bit tricky,” he continued. “Our plan was to hit the last corner in first or second position, we did that and I was second in the turn but then I left the gap with my teammate because I knew it would be too long for him to push the final.

“So the others had to make the gap even and then I left myself fifth positions and it was the perfect place to start the sprint.”

With the win, Raimclaims both the leaders and points jerseys heading into Thursday’s 186.6km stage 2 from Baku to Ismayilli.

“People like to say I’m a sprinter, but in my opinion I am not,” admitted Raim. “I have the legs for sprint … but I can’t say I am 100 percent pure sprinter. Today I proved to myself and others I can sprint in the bunch sprints also.

“I was aiming more for the third stage and the last stage because they are harder with less riders in the group. I like uphill finishes – not steep hills, but short ones,” the three-time Azerbaijan veteran told Eurosport.

“Last day, I know the circuit very well, it’s hard, but now I won the first one and I have more confidence [to do well].”