Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 Azerbaijan

It was May 2011 and I was in Germany with my wife's family – we were there for a party and the evening after, we had some quiet time – the Eurovision Song Contest was on – I hadn't seen it since I was a kid but the whole family sat around, joked and cheered as we watched Azerbaijan kick our Irish and German butts... Azerbaijan – I had heard of it before, but no idea where it was or knew anything about it.

Almost two years later and I'm boarding a flight from Dubai to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan to race the UCI 2.2 Tour de Azerbaijan – I was excited – I have travelled a lot, but never to this region of the world – I really didn't know what to expect (although Wikipedia did give me a bit of a headsup) and even after the trip, I still find it hard to explain.

Organised group ride equals closed down highway!
Out for a spin, the day before the race
After being picked up at the airport by race officials, we were whisked to our hotel – the driving was crazy, the traffic was mad, but oh my, the city – it looked like Paris... except cleaner... and more expensive. I didn't expect that. Huge buildings, sky scrappers, blue skies, one of the worlds largest flag (next to the building the built to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest) – I like it here!

Throughout the race, there was not a single thing I could fault the organization on (well, okay, tell us where to get ice – but that is REALLY nitpicking!) - I didn't see a single crash, a single car on the road (or side of the road) that wasn't part of the race – these guys are doing things right.

Around Baku

My race, well my videos mostly cover that – I arrived with a sore throat after Singapore, one that turned into a cough and sickness for most of our team (I'm sitting here in Dublin with an antibiotics prescription that I'm really hoping I don't have to take – I don't like what it does to your gut health – barely left my bedroom yesterday but feeling a lot better today) – the racing was hard, and looking at the power files afterwards, shows that it was far more difficult than any other stage races I rode this year (or last - stages 1 and 4 in the Philippines are up there though).

The final day, there is no video up. Twelve laps of a twelve kilometer circuit with a tough climb at the start – 1.6km at 7% - first 400m on cobbles Belgium would be proud of. Steep, shallow, steep, shallow – it was tough – twelve times around! I got on fine, and teammate Mark was trucking on the day – making a huge attack on the final lap to escape – it didn't work out and came together for a reduced bunch sprint with Orica Greenedge's Tomas Vaitkus claiming the victory.

Final night feast - yes, it was very very YUM
Azerbaijan was a really great experience for our team and I. Not only did we get to see an incredible country – but the racing was as tough and enjoyable as anything I have done. I hope our team will be able to return and take another shot at it next year (this time, without the addition of Asian bacteria running through our systems).

Around Baku

Around Baku

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