Podium success at Tour d'Azerbaïdjan just the start of things to come
With two standout performances from two-time stage winner Will Clarke and third-place race finisher Darren Lapthorne at the third annual Tour d'Azerbaïdjan, Drapac Professional Cycling got some much needed runs on the board on Sunday with its second stop in its UCI European Tour following the Presidential Tour of Turkey last earlier in the month.
Cyclingnews caught up with the 2007 Australian road champion on his way back from the UCI 2.2 multi-stage race at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, on the edge of the Caspian Sea.
"With Will Clarke holding the leaders jersey in Azerbaïdjan for two days, that was the moment the whole team got a big boost in moral including myself," Lapthorne told Cyclingnews on Tuesday. "From that day, we rode like a different team and believed we could do something in this tour.
"I'm sure this result will give the team the continued momentum we need for the next block of racing coming up and we still have a long way to go in this season."
The five-year Drapac veteran set up his podium finish – and best result of the year since his sixth place at the Australian National Road Championships in January behind two-time winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) – on Saturday's 115km penultimate stage, which concluded with a 22km climb.
Lapthorne finished in fifth place on the stage, 1:57 behind stage winner Linus Gerdemann (MTN-Qhubeka), and with the same deficit to eventual race winner Linur Zakarin (RusVelo), who took over the general classification jersey from Lapthorne's teammate and then-race leader Clarke.
"It's a great result for our team but Clarke's ride earlier in the week, gaining the leader's jersey set me up perfectly for the last couple of mountain stages as well," Lapthorne said. "It's been a good start to the season for us. We will always want to win more races or get better results no matter how well the season is going.
"So far I think we have had some surprises especially with Wouter Wippert winning four races early on," Lapthorne said referring to his Dutch teammate's two stage wins at the New Zealand Cycle Classic, stage win at Tour de Taiwan and a pro criterium win in Singapore.
"Our biggest asset is that no matter what race we do, we're always consistently strong and the wins are always within reaching distance."
Lapthorne is also optimistic about Drapac's future and what he hopes will be his continued involvement with the team moving forward.
"I still get excited by the thought of racing," he said. "I was nervous before the tour of Azerbaïdjan because I knew I had the form to do something here. I love that anticipation of a big race approaching. The moment I lose that I know it's time to stop.
"For the moment, Drapac has some big plans for the near future and I hope to be a part of that. We have some big races in the second half of the season, which I am also aiming for. It's an exciting time to be an Australian cyclist racing for an Australian team in world cycling, and when ever we get the opportunity to race against the world's best it's important that everyone at home knows what we are doing and want to see what we can do."
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