A four quid bottle of Tour of Azerbaijan

Krists Neilands crosses the line for this first pro win

Tour of Azerbaijan: Stage 5 – Baku to Baku

The way I see it, we should be grateful for a rest day so soon on the Giro. How else would we catch up with highlights from the Tour of Azerbaijan?

Some of us have been convincing ourselves of this ever since the race packed up in Sardinia and set sail for Sicily, leaving bike race addicts alone, on a Monday night, with nothing to watch.

I’ll admit I’m not a purist when it comes to my drug of choice. I tend to treat some bike racing like I would four quid Shiraz from the newsagent: it’s not there to be enjoyed – it looks too weird for that — but it fills a gap just long enough until you can get back on the good stuff.

All of which makes the Tour of Azerbaijan my four quid bottle of Shiraz.

What with it’s own commercial and theme song, this was the racing equivalent of the two-for-one plonk we’ve all reduced ourselves to when looking to take the edge off. There’s nothing to sniff, taste or swill. You just get it down and hope you find a few surprises.

And there were a few, like the beautiful old town of Baku, which the final stage looped a few times on its way to the finish. It looked picturesque and appealing, even with the padding on all its sharp bits, and what appeared to be the complete evacuation of anyone living there to make room for a bike race.

It’s possible they were all at home watching the highlights of the Giro of course, leaving the official types to hold clipboards and stop watches at the intermediate sprints, like PE teachers at a district sports day.

They also had a winner of about that age in Krists Neilands, young and thin and leagues ahead of everyone else (like that kid in school), crossing the line for his first pro win for Israel Cycling Academy, aged just 22.

The Azerbaijan Tourist Board is guaranteed at least one lifelong fan in Neilands. And as long as it coincides with a rest day in the Giro (and maybe that bottle of Shiraz), I’ll make that two.

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