Kenny van Hummel wins stage 1 of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan
Dutchman Kenny van Hummel (Androni-Giocattoli) has won a wind-affected opening stage of the 2014 Tour d’Azerbaidjan, sprinting to victory in Sumqayit ahead of Vitaliy Buts (Kolss) and Davide Vigano (Caja Rural).
The 154km opening stage started in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and headed west along the coast before turning north to the city of Sumqayit for five laps of a 5km circuit.
With winds blowing a gale at the start it was clear that the riders would have to be attentive and watch for splits in the peloton as they raced along the coast of the Caspian Sea. Sure enough, within the first half hour of the race, the peloton had been split into three main groups.
“I think after 5km we already split up the group and we were in the front with 20 guys I think”, stage winner Kenny van Hummel said in the post-race press conference. “It was very hard — I think I enjoyed my breakfast twice today.”
The day’s only KOM, a 3rd category climb peaking after 58km, was won by Vitaliy Buts (Kolss Cycling Team) ahead of the Baku pair of Maksym Averin and Aleksandr Surutkovych.
By the 65km mark, a lead group of roughly 40 riders had 1:30 over the following group on the road. But by the time they reached Sumqayit after 103.5km of racing, the lead group had swollen to almost 70 riders with the rest of the field trailing by four minutes.
By the end of the first 5km circuit the lead group had a gap of six minutes and by the end of the second lap they had seven minutes. In the third lap a group of four riders — Yousuf Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka), Mykhaylo Kononenko (Kolss), Luis Mas (Caja-Rural) and Klemen Stimulak (Adria Mobil) — opened up a gap and completed the third of five laps with a 30 second advantage. But by the end of the fourth and penultimate lap the leaders had been caught and the winner was set to come from a group of 70 riders.
In the final sprint it was former Vacansoleil rider, and one of the pre-stage favourites, van Hummel that proved strongest of all, capitalising on a solid lead-out and winning by a couple of bike lengths on the cobbles of the finishing straight.
“My team did a good job bringing me to the front at 500m to go”, van Hummel said. “At 300m to go I smashed the hammer down and the victory was there.”
The win gives van Hummel the overall lead and the lead in the sprint classification while Vitaliy Buts will wear the KOM jersey after taking maximum points on the day’s only climb. Alex Frame of the Giant-Shimano Development Team will wear the best young rider’s jersey after finishing 11th on the stage.
One of the big favourites in the general classification, 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo (Torku Sekerspor) finished in the lead group of 72 riders, while Cobo’s teammate and last year’s winner, Sergiy Grechyn, finished in the chase group more than 12 minutes behind.
The race continues tomorrow with a 187km stage from the Baku Velo Park to Ismayilli, featuring two second category climbs and a first category climb. The first category climb comes 34km before the end but with a flat run-in to the finish, it could be another stage for the sprinters, or at least the sprinters that can get over the final 6km climb with the lead group.
While race leader Kenny van Hummel isn’t concerned about the general classification (given the two mountain stages later in the week) the Dutchman is keen to add another Tour d’Azerbaidjan stage victory to his palmares.
“I don’t focus myself on the leader’s jersey but I focus myself on stage wins”, van Hummel said. The next few days we will see what I can do — I will try to win a second stage.”