Gabala, May 5, AZERTAC
Matej Mugerli (Amplatz - BMC) has won the third stage of the Tour d'Azerbaidjan after a chaotic final with crashes in the peloton. The ex-Synergy Baku rider was the fastest from a small group that managed to avoid any of the several crashes in the final kilometers of the stage. Points jersey wearer Mihkel Raim (Israel Cycling Academy) finished second, while KOM leader Vitaliy Buts (Kolss Cycling Team) came third. Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) remains in the blue leader's jersey, with a 39 seconds advantage.
In rainy and cloudy weather conditions the 115-strong peloton rolled out from Gabala for the 177.2km third stage, that would bring them from Gabala to Sheki and then back to Gabala for an uphill finish. After several attacks right from the start, a group of five riders formed the break that would stay clear for much of the stage.
Daniel Diaz (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Christoph Schweizer (Team Sauerland NRW P/b Henley & Partners), Jan Andrej Cully (Dukla Banska), Eriks Tom Gavars (Rietumu Banka - Riga) and Ryota Nishizono (Bridgestone Anchor) built a maximum advantage of 5' over the peloton. In the heavy weather conditions, the peloton looked quite relaxed, but going into the final 50km they picked up the chase and the gap started to drop.
Looking to profit from his day out front, Schweitzer took maximum points at the two intermediate sprints from the breakaway. With 20km to go the leaders still had an advantage of 55" over the chasing peloton, but were down to four - including added firepower from Janos Pelikan (Amplatz - BMC) who bridged across the gap.
Diaz, Schweizer, Nishizono and Pelikan were working well together, maintaining their 55" advantage heading into the finale, but the peloton had its sights set on a sprint finish and in the final 10km the race came back together. On the run in to the finish the chaos unfolded, seeing several crashes affect the race and a final group of just 32 riders sprinted for the stage win, from which Mugerli came through as the strongest rider on the day.
“Yesterday was a hard stage, so everyone was tired today I think, that’s maybe why there were many crashes. My team worked hard, and for the end of the stage I had one teammate with me who helped very well in the tough final. I waited with my sprint for the final 200 meters and then I went all out and won. It’s a great feeling to win in the country where I used to ride so often and where I know the roads so well. But still you need some luck, and that’s what I had today,” Matej Mugerli said.
Kirill Pozdnyakov said: “My team was very strong today and they helped me very well, that’s how I defended my jersey for now. The stage was less hard than yesterday and I felt good, so we were never in big problems. Only at the end it was challenging to not be involved with a crash, but we managed to stay out of it and to finish in the first group.”
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