Tour of Azerbaijan

Having only just finished racing at the Tour of Turkey, I found myself in the city of Baku 24hrs later, preparing for the Tour of Azerbaijan.

The field had a depth of talent, with many teams bringing a strong lineup.

With a few injured teammates and the other half of our squad racing in America, we started the race with only five riders, while the rest of the teams had the full six riders.

Tour of Turkey was my biggest ever-recorded workload over one week, so to get something out of this Tour would be a bonus as I was unsure how my body would respond.

Arriving at the stages each day, we had an impressive Mercedes Van decked out with a TV, leather seats and a comfy layout. Add to that our 5-star hotels and we really couldn’t complain about anything!

The week for me was full of ups and downs.

I had some disappointing luck on stage one, getting squeezed in the sprint, unclipping my foot to save me from crashing and rolling over the line in 14th. The boys did a good job to get me up there, so it was frustrating to not get the reward for them.

We did get the lead out back on track for stage four, but unfortunately the break of four riders held off the peloton to claim line honors. The guys did a fantastic job to get me into position for the final few kilometers, setting the pace whilst I boxed on with the other sprinters. I found some good gaps this time, fought for the right wheels and won the bunch sprint, so the team and I were happy with fifth on the day. It was also good confidence to win the bunch sprint, against some competitive & classy sprinters.

Peter Koning was a driver from stage one, helping to bring back the breakaway to set it up for a sprint. His form was good throughout the tour, helping in the lead out and finishing strongly on both the Tour’s toughest climbing stage and final circuit stage. As a key team member for 2015, it’s good to see him in some form.

Bernie Sulzeberger used his power on stage one to bring our lead-out to the front, then on stage four, helped to set it up again. The final stage saw 11 laps of a  13km circuit punctured with a tough 2.5km climb featuring a cobbled section. On the day, a select group decided the top 10 with  Benrie in the mix to finish a respectable 10th place.

Mal Rudolph found some good form on the final stage, climbing superbly and riding aggressively on the cobbles to finish just behind Bernie’s lead group. He was an influential part of the lead out also, using his explosive power to hold good position at the front.

Sam Spokes assisted in the lead out on the first day, boxing on with the other riders to hold us in good position.  He was only able to complete stage one though, with unfortunate knee troubles seeing him withdraw on stage two. He will rest up for his next race, the Philadelphia Classic in early June, where the course suits him perfectly.

To back up with a five stage tour following on from Turkey was a solid effort by all the team and staff. We had our good stages and know that with fresh legs, our performances could have only improved.

For Peter and I, we flew back to Holland for a day and a half, staying at his family home before we fly to Japan. It's nice to relax in a home environment and go for a ride to spin the legs out between our flights. Having a local tour guide in Peter to show me the sights was pretty good too, there is some amazing history around the streets here in Holland. 

The Tour of Japan starts on Sunday 17th, with a fresh few teammates joining us in Dylan Girdlestone, Tim Roe and Adam Phelan.



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