Matej Mugerli defends stage 3 crown in Azerbaijan

Slovenian Matej Mugerli takes bunch sprint in Gabala for second straight year, while Azeri Kirill Pozdnyakov maintains GC lead at Tour d’Azerbaijan …

Former Baku rider Matej Mugerli survived a crash-marred final to claim his second straight uphill sprint finish on stage 3 of Tour d’Azerbaijan in Gabala on Friday.

“Yesterday was a hard stage, so everyone was tired I think, that’s why there were maybe many crashes,” explained Mugerli, referring to the field’s four crashes inside the final 6km. “My team worked very good.

“For the stage, I had one teammate with me that helped me in the hard final. I waited with my sprint for the final 200 metres and then I went full out and won.

The 35-year-old Slovenian, who now rides for Amplatz-BMC, bested stage 1 winner Mihkel Räim (Israel Cycling Academy) and current mountains classification leader Vitaliy Buts (Kolss), also won the 177.2-kilometre stage in 2016.

“It’s a great feeling to win in the country where I used to ride so many times and where I know the road really good,” said Mugerli. “But still you need some luck, and that’s what I had today.”

Stage 2 winner and Mugerli’s former teammate Kirill Pozdnyakov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) remains the overall leader with a 39-second gap on general classification over Ukrainian Oleksandr Polivoda (Kolss). Polivoda’s teammate and compatriot Mykhaylo Kononenko sits 43 seconds back tied on time with former LottoNL-Jumbo rider Dennis van Winden, who finished third on stage 2.

“My team was very strong and they helped me today, that’s how I defended my jersey,” said Pozdnyakov. “The stage was [not as hard as] yesterday and I felt good, so we never were in big problems.

“Only at the end it was challenging to not be involved with a crash, but we managed to stay out of it and to finish in the first group.”

Only two stages remain in the five-day UCI Europe Tour road race, including Saturday’s 164.2km mountains stage from Gabala to Pirgulu and Sunday’s 158km circuit race in Baku.

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