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Beers for breaks and racing for fun: CCB Velotooler take on the Tour d'Azerbaidjan

American Continental team riding the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan and not taking themselves too seriously

Founded in 1980, CCB is an American cycling team that gained a new sponsor and UCI Continental status in 2017. Now known as CCB Velotooler the team has fielded a full roster of six riders at the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan.

From 2017 the team welcomed on board Velotooler, something of an intermediary for cyclists looking for cycle mechanics.

Members can sign-up to Velotooler as a mechanic - listing their skills, or a cyclist - specifying what they need done to their bike.

It's a great idea and has been described (positively) as 'Uber for bike mechanics.' The brand is spreading its name to some unlikely corners as its race team heads outside of America looking for racing experience.

The young squad is a friendly bunch and clearly motivated by the enjoyment of riding their bikes. John Harris, a 23-year-old rider in his first season with the team is happy to chat as he awaits his turn to sign on for stage three in Azerbaijan.

CCB Velotooler sign-on ahead of stage one of the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan. Photo: Jack Elton-Walters

Erik Jan Jansen, of cyclingonline.nl, told me that Harris was up for joke wagers on the stage and he had promised the rider a beer back in the hotel if he got in the breakaway on stage two from Baku to Ismayilli the day before.

As we stood around in the municipal square of Gabala, in the north of Azerbaijan not far from the Russian border, I asked him if he'd take the 'beers for breaks' incentive as he had done the day before.

'Yeah I'll take that,' he said, smiling brightly below his distinctive blonde moustache.

Competing in his first Tour d'Azerbaidjan. Photo: Jack Elton-Walters

I spent the stage glued to race radio, listening out for 'rider 203 is ahead of the peloton'... The call didn't come so I went to find him after the stage.

'I owe you a beer!' Harris shouted when he spotted me shortly after he'd crossed the finish line, smiling but looking tired and dirty after rain earlier on the stage.

'We were doing about 50k an hour, and I was attacking,' he explained.

'No one wanted to let a breakaway go, it was insane. Everyone kept on pulling it back for no reason; I don't know why.'

Stage three of the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan was significant for a number of crashes in the final 7km, which Harris got caught up in including a lucky escape with the rear of a car.

'With maybe 6-7k to go, I didn't even hit the ground I just rode into people,' he said.

'Somebody fell down in front of me, there was like 10 guys and I just rode into them. I picked up my bike... got on the team car, started following them, saw the peloton and we were starting to go uphill,' he continued animatedly.

'This was with about 5k left. Riding by myself [when there was] another crash up in the peloton. Cars all over the place: neutral service car rides up in front of me, slams and hits the brakes.

'I was like "woah!" and ran into the back window,' the American said, clearly unscathed by the incident.

'Little learning curve there.'

Harris rolled in looking tired, but soon brightened up. Photo: Jack Elton-Walters

Remembering he was here to race, finish line talk turned to the remaining two stages - the first a summit finish and the second an extended circuit race around the captial, Baku.

'We've got Cam [teammate Cameron Beard] up there pretty close to the young rider jersey, so we want to obviously try and get him there.

'He's also, I think, top 15 GC. So, keep him safe.'

Team obligations acknowledged, Harris went on to talk about his own aims for the rest of the race.

'I think I'm looking for one of the elimination stages, I think that's either tomorrow or stage five in Baku.

'You know just attack, have fun and try to get in some kind of move and get a top 20 finish.'

With his soigneur agitating for the rider to get on his way back to the hotel, our chat was coming to a close but not before he could give his thoughts on the Tour d'Azerbaidjan so far.

'It's fantastic! Just racing hard against really talented riders who are going real good, and just kind of seeing where you stack up.

'If you stack up low then you just go "alright, well there's the bar and I've just got to train a little harder."

'If not make up for it with false confidence!'

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