ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL CYCLING TOUR IN MEMORY OF HEYDAR ALIYEV
On 9-13 May 2012, Azerbaijan staged an international cycling tour in memory of its former President Heydar Aliyev. The five-stage race, a 2.2 U23 category event, was included in the International Cycling Union (UCI) calendar, and was the first professional cycling race to take place in the country. The tour was organised jointly by the Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan with the country’s National Olympic Committee and Ministry of Youth and Sports.
18 teams from around the world, each consisting of six riders, were invited to participate. In total, the peleton comprised 180 cyclists (including16 women) and featured four continental, four national and 12 club/mixed teams. A team of approximately fifty support staff accompanied the riders during the race, which included a team competition for the male cyclists, and an individual competition for the female riders.
In the Tour de France, the overall race leader sports a yellow jersey, but the Azerbaijani version opted for blue. Meanwhile, just as in the Tour de France, the cyclist who achieves the highest points total in each stage receives the green jersey, while the best rider in the mountain stages sports the red jersey. The best Azerbaijani rider is awarded a special white jersey known as Odlar yurdu (Land of Fire), with a special design that reflects the national colours Azerbaijan.
Technical support staff ensured that the peloton was supplied with food and water throughout the race, while each team was provided with a Skoda vehicle, equipped with a roof rack to carry spare bicycles.
The opening ceremony
At the opening ceremony, Azad Rahimov, Minister for Youth and Sport hailed the significance of Azerbaijan’s first international cycling tour, expressing the hope that that the participants would acquit themselves well and that the event would serve as a springboard for their future success.
Pavel Skorek, International Commissioner of the International Cycling Union (UCI), praised the standard of the organisation of the event, noting the growing success and recognition of Azerbaijan’s athletes in the international arena.
Fazil Mammadov, the President of Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan d noted the high level of state support for physical education and sport in the country. He said that this was a key factor in the major strides being taken by Azerbaijani sport, and the results being achieved in international competitions.
On day one, the female competitors took part in an individual pursuit race over 25 km, which was won by local rider Yelena Chalikh, securing qualification for London 2012 with a time of 34:57 minutes.
Eighteen teams of male cyclists competed in a 30 km team prologue, which started in Baku’s Azadlig (Freedom) Square, and which was won by Russian club Itera Katyusha in a time of 36:38 minutes. The Kazakhstan national team finished second, with German team Specialized Concept Store taking third place.
Itera Katyusha’s Alexandr Grigoryev was awarded the blue jersey, sponsored by Ata Holding, while Roman Semyonov received the green jersey, sponsored by Azpetrol. The red jersey, sponsored by Pasha Holding, went to Germany’s Emmanuel Buchmann of Specialized Concept Store. Local rider Tural Isgandarov was presented with the Odlar yurdu (Land of Fire) jersey, sponsored by Synergy Group. In addition, there was a presentation of prize money and gifts for the three riders on the podium. A post-stage press conference took place at the Baku Hilton.
The second stage saw riders cycle from the Baku to Ismayilli, taking in three peaks of the Greater Caucasus range. Spanish rider Rubio Hernandez finished first, in a time of 4:41:39 hours. The points leader in Stage 2 was Yusif Regigi of Team Centre Mondial du Cyclisme.
Stage 3 started in the region of Gabala with a 20 km slope trail, before heading for the mountainous regions of Oghuz and Sheki, before a punishing final 782m climb into Gabala. Stage 3 was won by Russian cyclist Dmitry Vernidub from the Samara team in a time of 4 hours, 51 minutes. Algeria’s Yusif Regigi, representing World Cycling Centre (WCC) finished second, just one metre behind the winner. That was enough to see Regigi keep hold of the blue jersey, as he top scored in the intermediate sprints. Maxim Vasiliyev (Ukraine) finished third, while Stage 2 winner Rubi Hernandez (Spain) took 4th place. Bakhtiyar Gozatayev (Kazakhstan) claimed the red jersey, after top scoring in the mountain sections of the stage, while 20-year old Tural Isgandarov was awarded the Land of Fire jersey, crossing the line 53 seconds after the winner.
The stage started in Ismayilli, kicking off with a 35 km run into Gabala, where the riders completed several laps of a circular route, which included a climb to 798 metres, the highest point of the tour. Gennady Tatarinov (Russia) won the stage in a time of 2:41:18 hours. Maxim Vasilyev (Ukraine), riding in the colours of the Donetsk Cycling Club, finished second, claiming the green jersey for scoring the highest points in the intermediate and overall finish distances. Maydos Telegin (Kazakhstan) finished third.
Algeria’s Yusif Regigi of the World Cycling Centre (WCC) team maintained the overall lead to keep hold of the blue jersey. Bakhtiyar Gozatayev of Kazakhstan top scored in the mountains to secure the red jersey.
Tural Isgandarov was the best performing Azerbaijani cyclist, crossing the finish line one minute and 10 seconds after the winner to claim the Land of Fire jersey yet again.
Of the 88 riders who started Stage 4, only 73 managed to finish.
International Cycling Union (UCI) President, Pat McQuaid was on hand to offer his congratulations to the stage winners, and praised the efforts of the Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan in ensuring that the race was organised at the highest level in accordance with international standards.
McQuaid added that the UCI had reached an agreement with the Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan for the development of cycling in Azerbaijan. As a result, new training bases will be established in various regions of Azerbaijan, and the Baku Cycle Track will be re-opened. The UCI chief expressed his belief that in the years to come Azerbaijani cyclists would enjoy international recognition and success.
The tour returned to Baku for its final stage, which comprised of 10 laps of a circular route in the centre of the Azerbaijani capital. Nurpolad Gulubetov (Kazakhstan) took first place, completing the stage in 2:57:16 hours. Stage 4 winner Gennady Tatarinov (Russia) finished second, while Issaka Sisse (Cote d'Ivoire) crossed the finish line in third. Tural Isgandarov yet again finished as the best Azerbaijani rider to keep hold of the Land of Fire jersey.
Yusif Regigi (Algeria), who held the overall lead from Stage 2 onwards, won the blue jersey. Maxim Vasilyev (Ukraine) accumulated the highest points tally to claim the green jersey, while Bakhtiyar Gozatayev (Kazakhstan) won the red jersey as the tour’s ‘king of the mountains’. Itera Katyusha topped the team rankings (43.51.04), with the World Cycling Centre second (43.51.20) and the ISD Donetsk team third (43.52.50).
The post-tour press conference
At the post-tour press conference, which was held at the Baku Hilton Hotel, Fazil Mammadov, President of Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan, expressed his delight at the way Azerbaijan had staged such a large-scale major international cycling event, and thanked the Government of Azerbaijan for playing such a vital role. He also announced that the Cycling Federation of Azerbaijan had already begun negotiations with the International Cycling Union (UCI) over staging a similar event a similar event to commemorate the 90th birthday of the late President Heydar Aliyev.
UCI President, Pat McQuaid added that the event would help raise the international profile of Azerbaijan, and that the country had cemented its reputation as a reliable partner for the international sporting events. He expressed his gratitude to the tour organisers and the Azerbaijani Government for the high standards achieved, hinting that the event could become a regular event on the UCI calendar. “The international calendar includes prestigious competitions such as the Tour De France and the Giro d'Italia. In the near future, maybe we’ll see the Tour d’Azerbaidjan featuring alongside them.”