Joe Blackmore celebrated his 21st birthday in spectacular style on Friday, as he won stage 6 of the Tour du Rwanda on Mont Kigali to move into the race leader’s yellow jersey with two stages remaining.

The Brit was already the virtual maillot jaune as he approached the finish line as part of a five-rider group after an earlier attack from teammate Moritz Kretschy had distanced overnight leader William Lecerf (SQD).

Blackmore rode beyond his age in the final kilometer, most notably when he calmly responded to an acceleration from Ilkhan Dostiyev (AQD), before timing his sprint to perfection.

He leads Dostiyev by 11 seconds and stage runner-up Jhonatan Restrepo (PTK) by 13 seconds on GC. Kretschy, impressively, sits seventh overall after finishing the stage in the same position.

“Some good birthday watts today,” jokes Blackmore, the reigning British Gravel Champion, after the biggest victory of his fledgling career to date.

“It was full gas all day. Every climb was pressing; [there were] attacks all day and no one really got away. I tried to conserve myself as much as possible until the last climb when I could see some guys were dropping.

“I didn’t expect the yellow jersey to be dropped but as he swung off, I bridged across to the next group so he was distanced straight away. Ruben [Plaza, Sports Director] was on the radio to keep me calm and it worked out for the last sprint to have some energy left.

“I remembered from last year that it is a long sprint up here so I just waited until the last guys opened up with 200 meters to go and I waited until the last 50 meters.”

Joe Blackmore in the Tour du Rwanda yellow jersey

Following Israeli road race champion Itamar Einhorn’s stage victory on Monday, this was another eye-catching IPT performance.

Chris Froome attacked 50 kilometers into the stage, which drew an energy-sapping chase led by Restrepo’s team. Then Kretschy jumped clear on the second category climb to Gako Village, which significantly reduced the size of the peloton and ended Lecerf’s chances.

Plaza says: “I think we rode superbly today and the plan worked perfectly. Although Joe won the stage, I think we can say that more than 50 per cent of the reason why was Moritz. This morning we said to Moritz that he’d be the key rider today and he proved it.

“At one point, our goal was to isolate the leader and we did it early on. Unfortunately for us, Astana helped him close the gap, so we had to start over. We did it again with Moritz on the second climb of the day outside of Kigali, and as soon as he got a gap, the other teams had to push full gas to close the gap. Joe could sit in the wheels there.

“The team did a great job during the whole stage – Chris showed that he’s improving day by day and was an active part of our strategy today, too.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s seventh stage, which runs between Rukomo and Kayonza and looks suited to a breakaway, Plaza adds: “Tomorrow is a completely different day. We are going to need all of our guys to be ready to defend the jersey.”

Lead photo: Tour du Rwanda