Linus Gerdemann crowned his comeback to professional cycling by winning the queen stage of the Tour d'Azerbaidjan. The German escaped on the day's first climb and survived a mechanical problem near the end to claim his first win since 2011. He outsprinted break companion Ilnur Zakarin (Rusvelo), who took over the race lead.
The 31-year-old had looked strong in the race's earlier stages. A mechanical problem at the wrong time in the second stage took him out of contention for the overall title, but he fought on. On the third stage, he could be considered responsible for teammate Youcef Reguigui's sprint victory.
"Yesterday Youcef was quite tired, but I told him to hang in there, I think you can win the race. I stayed with him and helped him," said Gerdemann who accompanied the Algerian to the final kilometer. "It is always nice to see the others winning, and to share my experience."
Today it was his turn. "I was planning to win this stage but it is never easy," he said. "I attacked perhaps a bit early but it still worked out."
"We all expected a fast race and it was indeed a really fast race. I planned to attack on the first climb and I was already in the first break, so that worked out. I wanted to drop the GC guys, but one[Zakarin] came with me. He was very strong, so we could keep the gap."
It almost looked all over when, with only 5 km up the final long, dragging climb, Gerdemann broke a spoke and had to wait for a spare wheel. But Zakarin "waited for me, very sporting. He is very strong and I think he deserves the jersey."
His role at his new team is to help the young riders while hopefully bringing in successes as well. "I am an experienced rider and I think we have a lot of incredible talents. But sometimes today I had doubts about my experience, as I attacked too early and asked myself why I had done so," he added wryly.
The year off had been a big help to him, he said. It was not just filled with training. "Sometimes it is nice to spend more time with family, to not always be traveling, to enjoy one summer without pressure. And to be able to have one more dessert after dinner and not worry about it."