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Gallery: Attacking racing and flag waving fans at the 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan

Photos from a week in Azerbaijan, where the crowds - although not huge - put other new races to shame

The 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan was only the sixth edition of a race that is part of the oil state's move to diversify the country's economy and cultural offering. Despite how relatively new the race is, at the start and end of every stage were enthusiastic spectators who gathered to watch the riders and see what all the fuss was about; most of them waving flags delivered and collected en masse each day.

The racing itself was aggressive, exciting and far more open than the more metronomic and controlled races we often see in the WorldTour nowadays.

Exploring much of the north of the former Soviet state, the route ventures towards both the Georgian and Russian borders before heading back to where it started in the capital Baku for a final stage on parts of the Formula 1 motor racing circuit.

The locals, although perhaps at times more bemused by a mass of men on racing bicycles rather than keen to see some racing, gathered at the roadsides in towns and villages and gave the travelling circus a friendly welcome.

Seeing people out on the roadside, although not on the scale of the Tour de Yorkshire or any given race in Belgium, was a stark reminder of the lack of interest in racing south of here in the Middle East.

Contrary to the empty roads seen at the World Championships in Doha, the crowds - whatever their motivation and whoever may have supplied their flags - were a welcome sign of the potential for growth in cycling in Azerbaijan.

'It's not like Qatar. There's really some people here,' said Johan Vansummeren ahead of the final stage. Vansummeren was present at the race looking at the possibility of joining the staff on the Synergy Baku Cycling Project.

The 2017 Tour d'Azerbaidjan ended well for the host nation, as adopted son Kirill Pozdnyakov of the Synergy Baku Cycling Project took the win on stage two and carried his time advantage all the way to overall victory.

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