Team Astana's Assan Bazayev has assumed the leadership of the Tour de Luxembourg on Thursday. The Kazakh national champion finished sixth in the 188-kilometre stage from Schifflange to Differdange as part of an eight-man leading group which sprinted for the stage win. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) out-sprinted his seven breakaway companions for the victory ahead of his teammate Matti Breschel and third place finisher Aitor Galdos Alonso (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Overnight race leader, Bazayev's teammate Grégory Rast, finished the stage in a group 27 seconds behind the eight leaders and dropped to 16th on general classification.
"Of course I am happy with this leader's jersey and I will defend it," said Bazayev. "On the local circuits with the 1.5-kilometer climb, everybody looked at me when Schleck attacked. The other seven knew that maybe I was the fastest sprinter of the group. I jeopardized my sprint by working and getting Schleck back, but I had no choice. I really wanted that leader's jersey."
Astana directeur sportif Alexander Shefer believes Bazayev can contest for overall honours over the remaining two stages.
"I am convinced that he can win," said Shefer. "Of course there are the two Schlecks with a strong Saxo Bank Team, but our team is surely as good as theirs. Today we controlled the race with Schär, Iglinsky, Dmitriyev and Raimbekov. This weekend we have two hard stages but Assan is strong. I am convinced he can keep the yellow jersey. Additionally, we have Andreas Klöden who is only eight seconds behind on the general classification."
Assan Bazayev has been riding strongly since March. He's earned top-10 finishes in Tirreno-Adriatico, Three Days of De Panne and the Tour de Romandie. Last year Bazayev finished fifth in the five-day Tour of Luxembourg.