Israel Cycling Academy continued to shine at Tour d’Azerbaidjan on Sunday. 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.
Already owning an opening stage win and two other podiums, including a third-place finish from Dennis van Winden (NED) on stage 2 and a second-place result from stage 1 winner Mihkel Räim on stage 3.
The lanky 22-year-old, who stands 189 centimetres tall and weights 69 kilograms, 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.
ICA's Krists Neilands attacked from 23 kilometres out to solo to a stage 5 win at Tour d'Azerbaijan in Baku. Photo: Oran Kelly | VeloImages
Image credit: Eurosport
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.”
For stage 2 winner and native Azeri, Kirill Pozdnyakov, the overall lead was never in question after securing the race win the day before atop Pirgulu with his seventh-place finish. The 28-year-old graciously added both the red mountains jersey and the blue leaders jersey to his growing palmarés in front of a hometown crowd along the Caspian Sea near Old Town, which has already began preparations to host Formula One next month.
Azeri Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) wrapped up the blue leaders jersey he lifted following his stage 2 win to claim the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaijan overall victory. Photo: Oran Kelly | VeloImages
Image credit: Eurosport
“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.”
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