Baku , May 3, AZERTAC
Estonian sprinter of Israel Cycling Academy Mihkel Raim has won the opening stage bunch sprint at the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, crossing the finish line in Sumgayit just ahead of Emils Liepins (Rietumu Banka - Riga) and Pier Paolo De Negri (Nippo - Vini Fantini). The win also sees Raim take hold of the first leader’s jersey of the race.
It was a tough opening day for the riders at the Tour d'Azerbaidjan with a fierce fight for the day's breakaway seeing nothing stick. That meant the first and only KOM points of the day were raced for by the peloton, with Vitaliy Buts (Kolss Cycling Team) taking maximum points. His reward, the first red Mountain jersey of the race.
Crosswinds also made for a hard and fast race, and shortly after entering Sumgayit, where the riders took on five town centre laps, a five-man escape group formed taking a maximum lead of 2'40". With the sprinters' teams keen to make the most of today's opportunity, the break was eventually reeled back in, and going into the final lap the peloton caught the last remaining rider out front and the teams got ready for the final sprint.
There was still time for several late attacks as riders tried to jump the sprinters, but no one was able to break free from the bunch. In the final sprint Nippo - Vini Fantini took control, but it was the Estonian sprinter Mihkel Raim (Israel Cycling Academy) who came through strongest on the day after an explosive finish.
After three years of competing at the Tour d'Azerbaidjan it is the first stage win and the first GC-jersey for Mihkel Raim.
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