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Illuminate: ‘Nail or hammer? I think we’re becoming the hammer’

BAKU, Azerbaijan — Team Illuminate general manager and sports director Chris Johnson is rarely at a loss for words, and following his Colombian rider Edwin Aliva’s second points jersey this season he was ready to talk.

“We didn’t come to Tour d’Azerbaijan hunting for the green jersey at the start,” Johnson admitted to VeloNews. “At Tour of Taiwan we won the green jersey and now this is the second in our second UCI stage race of the year.

“This is a great result for us and a huge result for Edwin, but from anyone that is here or that saw the race you can see this is a total team effort.”

Avila, who beat compatriots Sergio Henao (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the 2016 Colombian road race title, clinched the points classification with a third-place finish behind winner Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy) on the fifth and final stage of the sixth edition of Tour d’Azerbaijan on Sunday in Baku.

While Neilands captured the day, stage 2 winner and native Azeri Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) claimed the five-day UCI Europe Tour road race.

For Avila, the podium result comes just one day after the 27-year-old won the queen stage to slip into the points jersey atop Pirgulu.

Following Saturday’s win, Johnson told VeloNews he was hoping the early season success would lure both the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the Tour of Colorado to extending invitations to the US-registered UCI Continental team.

“We bring a really aggressive style of racing to the races,” claimed Johnson. “You hear the phrase ‘you can be the hammer or the nail’ … well,  we spent a couple of years being the nail and learning.

“We have a really talented group of riders athletically, but we also get along really well and we are having a lot of fun and I think that counts a lot,” he continued. “This summer we are aiming for these races in the U.S., but in the same sense we are focused and just trying to create opportunities here.

“And to be honest, I think we’re becoming the hammer.”

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