Drapac Professional Cycling’s Will Clarke is the new leader of the Tour d’Azerbaïdjan following the second stage on Thursday where he finished runner up to Primoz Roglic (Adria Mobil).
Clarke had finished in 25th place on Stage 1, but on the same time as the winner, Kenny van Hummel (Androni Giocattoli – Venezuela). Today, Roglic and Clarke maintained their advantage as the remnants of the breakaway which punctuated the 187km stage, finishing nine seconds ahead of Rafael Andriato (Neri Sottoli) and 25 other chasers. The 29-year-old Australian now wears the blue leader’s jersey and takes a nine-second advantage into Friday’s third stage.
Strong 60km/h winds again played havoc with the peloton, with six echolons forming at the 40km mark. Only Clarke made the first split with Jack Anderson, Darren Lapthorne and Ben Johnson in the second group on the road. With 100km down, Anderson, Clarke and Lapthorne were among 43 riders were at the front of the race ahead of the second cat. 2 climb of the day. Clarke followed the move of Roglic, eventually joining forces to hold a lead of just over two minutes on the chase group.
“With several climbs to do and a head wind it was a bit ambitious, but knowing Will that’s what he does best,” said Drapac Directeur Sportif, Agostino Giramondo.
Clarke said that it was a matter of the pair putting their head down.
“We got a bit of a gap, gave full gas on the descent and then opened a bigger gap,” he explained. “We worked well together.”
The pair held on, with the peloton rounding the final bend just as Roglic and Clarke were about to cross the finish line in Ismayilli.
Friday sees a lumpy 180km stage from Qabala to Oguz and Sheki before returning to Oguz with Giramondo believing the team is well-placed to defend Clarke’s overall lead.
“Darren Lapthorne is only a handful of seconds down so is also in with a chance tomorrow,” he said.
Lapthorne eventually finished in 14th place across the line, 13 seconds down on Roglic and Clarke. He is the next-best Drapac rider on GC in 11th place, 12 seconds in arrears of Clarke.
“It’s going to be a hard day with a few climbs and given that Will has had a hard day today, he’s certainly going to feel it,” continued Giramondo. “We will do everything to try and hold the jersey tomorrow before we get to Saturday’s queen stage which finishes up a 22km climb.”
Clarke said he was looking forward to the challenge of defending his overall lead.
“I’d like to hold on to the leader’s jersey as long as possible; hopefully I can recover well tonight so I have a lot of energy tomorrow to defend the jersey,” he explained.