Youcef Reguigui of MTN-Qhubeka won the bunch sprint of the third stage of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan. The Algerian pulled away with some 50 meters to go to win by two bike lengths ahead of Mattej Mugerli (Adria Mobil) and Kristian Haugaard Jensen (Development Team Giant – Shimano).
Will Clarke (Drapac) finished in the pack to easily maintain his overall lead.
It was the 24-year-old’s first win for the South African team, which he joined in 2013, and in fact his first win as a pro. He won the forerunner of this race, the Heydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour, as an amateur in 2012.
“The stage today was hard, it was all up and down,” Reguigui said. “I knew this road from 2012. Linus Gerdemann stayed with me to the last kilometer. Everyone was going all out. With 300 meters I started to sprint. This is good for my team and for me as well.”
“I came here this year to win the yellow jersey, but conditions were not the best. I just did the Tour of Turkey and I was very tired.”
And tomorrow? “It is maybe a little bit too hard for me.”
Clark was satisfied with the day. “It was quite good actually. The plan was to let a small break go. Finally the three man break went and we knew the best rider was at about 11 minutes so there was no need for us to pull. We left the gap at about 4-5 minutes. In the last 50-60 kms the other teams started helping pulling.”
The race started in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd, under the usual blue skies, and refreshingly, only a light breeze. It was to be 180 kilometers, on a there-and-back course, with start and finish in Gabala. Things got off to a fast start, with the bunch galloping along at 60 km/h.
The high speed helped to keep things together for a long time. Despite numerous attempts, it wasn’t until km 30 that three riders were able to get away. Adrian Honkisz (CCC Polsat), Ivan Stevic (Tusnad) and Thomas Vaubourziek (La Pomme Marseille) quickly built up lead of up to 5:30.
This was another chance for a bunch sprint, though, and Drapac, Baku and Androni Giacattoli finally moved to the front to the lead the chase.
A crash in the latter part of the stage saw Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN-Qhubeka) transported to hospital.
The chase was fast enough to bring the gap down to only 1:45 with 10km to go, and it kept going down. Finally, within sight of the last kilometer marker, the three escapees were finally caught, and the bunch sprint set up. Reguigui jumped with about 300 meters to go and made good on the sprint win.
Stage 3 results
1. Youcef Reguigui (MTN – Qhubeka)
2. Matej Mugerli (Adria Mobil)
3. Kristian Haugaard Jensen (Development Team Giant-Shimano)