Azerbaijan to promote cycling sport

By Nigar Orujova

Azerbaijan is planning to become a new cycling country, Azerbaijan Cycling Federation said.

The ambition includes the Tour d'Azerbaidjan, the Synergy Baku Cycling Project and building a structure for their up-and-coming young riders.

The federation said, the country has started from scratch but can now boast of a professional race, The Tour d'Azerbaidjan, which will take place on May 7-11.

The tour will start and finish in the capital city of Baku and cover all seven regions of the country in five stages. The race has been elevated to UCI 2.1 status in only its third year, and further growth can be expected in the upcoming years.

The Continental-ranked Synergy Baku Cycling Project is co-sponsored by the Synergy Group, one of the largest private investment holdings in the country and by the Azerbaijani government. The team has set as one of its major goal the development of Azerbaijani riders and helping them to move up to the highest levels.

All parties involved have their eye on sending riders to Rio for the first participation in Olympic cycling event.

Another important step along the way is the country's hosting of the first-ever European Olympic Games in 2015, to be held in the capital Baku.

There will be over 200 events in some 19 different sports, including cycling. In fact, the final stage of this year's Tour d'Azerbaidjan is being held on the course of the road race in the European Olympics.

Vice-President of the Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan Sahib Alakbarov said: "Synergy Baku Cycling Project was established only one year ago, but it made good results at its competitions - in 2013, team members were on top of the podium 15 times."

"The team which is taking part in the 2014 season continues to please us with the successful performances as well," he said.

Today in Azerbaijan, thousands of youngsters are actively engaged in cycle sport and one of our most important tasks is to create the necessary infrastructure for them, he said.

The Republican Cycle Track, currently under repair, will soon be open for cyclists. The cycling park constructed last year is now operating to the full extent and here cycle lovers can engage their chosen cycling discipline at any time.

"And part of the preparations for the first European Games - Baku-2015, to be held in Azerbaijan, includes a BMX stadium at the cycling park. We are sure that organization of this competition will serve to increase development of this kind of cycling sport in Azerbaijan," Alakbarov said.

Team manager David McQuaid believes the Baku Cycling Project team is taking the task of qualifying Azerbaijani riders for the Olympics very seriously.

"Through our sponsor - the Synergy Group - we have an investment in Azerbaijan cycling and we, being myself and the BCP core staff, aim to deliver a return on that investment and as of mid-2014 we feel like we are very much on track," he said.

Personally it is such a worthwhile project, with such great back-up in resources coming from Azerbaijan, McQuaid said. "Azerbaijan is a country investing in itself to a large degree. You only have to watch CNN, Eurosport or other popular media outlets and you see Azerbaijan.

"Look at the first European Olympic Games coming to Baku in 2015, it will be incredible for Baku as a host city and we as Baku Cycling Project aim to have our riders fine-tuned for that event," he stressed.