Illuminate’s Edwin Avila claims queen stage in Azerbaijan

Illuminate's Edwin Avila capitalized attacked on the final climb to win the penultimate stage of Tour d’Azerbaijan atop Pirgulu on Saturday.

BAKU, Azerbaijan — 2016 Colombian road race champion Edwin Avila attacked on the final categorized climb to win the penultimate stage of Tour d’Azerbaijan atop Pirgulu on Saturday.

The diminutive 27-year-old Team Illuminate rider, who started the season with a pair of stage wins at Tour de Taiwan in March, crossed the line two seconds ahead of Russian Ildar Arslanov (Gazprom-RusVelo) and five seconds on Italian Alex Turrin (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) at the end of the 164.2-kilometre queen stage from Gabala, which featured two categorised — including the final HC ascent to the finish.

“I’m really, really happy with this win,” said Avila after the race. “It was a hard sprint in the final, with all good riders, but I was happy that I’m the lucky one to win. Now as I have the green points jersey as well, we will try to defend it tomorrow.

“Tomorrow is a stage that also has some climbs, so it is possible to stay in the front so I can fight for the jersey,” he continued. “Me and my team will work for it.”

Illuminate general manager Chris Johnson was elated with his team’s victory.

“His smile says it all,” an exuberant Johnson told VeloNews. “We really wanted to bring it to the race today. We had the guys going in the early breakaway, and Simon (Pellaud) had almost four minutes on the field going into the first categorised climb and he was able to stick with Edwin over it.

“Obviously Edwin capping it off going over that climb and winning that sprint is why everyone was motivated to finish it off because we knew we had one off the strongest riders in the race.”

Johnson hopes the win increases his team’s prospects of luring an invitation to the US summer races — Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic.

“We are trying to get into Utah and Colorado this summer and we don’t yet have an invitation,” admitted Johnson. “We won two stages at the Tour of Taiwan, which was our first UCI race of the year and now won a stage here. We really want to earn our spot in those race and hopefully this will go towards that.”

The win is not the only big news for Johnson’s Illuminate programme, as he announced after the race that his women’s team would be in California next week for the 2017 Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race empowered with SRAM.

“I’ll confirm with you right now, the Illuminate women’s team will be participating in the 2017 Tour of California,” shared Johnson.

With only the fifth and final stage remaining — a gruelling 158km city circuit in Baku — stage 2 winner and overall tour leader Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) has all but wrapped up the race win while carrying a 46-second lead over Austrian Hermann Pernsteiner (Amplatz-BMC) and 1:19 over three-time Tour of Qinghai Lake winner Oleksandr Polivoda (Kolss) of the Ukraine.

“Of course we were looking whether the breakaway could be dangerous for my position in the GC, but I had a five minutes advantage on the closest of that group so I was not afraid as we had everything under control with my team,” explained the native Azeri. “Anything can happen in cycling, so we still have to be focussed and concentrated during tomorrow’s final stage.”