Aylin Koç Writes Her Opinions on Tour d’Azerbaidjan 2013
As Cyclingtr.com, we went to our brother country, beloved Azerbaijan, representing the Turkish press. As we always do in every road race we attended, we continue sharing all the details which are not seen on the screens, with all the bicycle enthusiasts both in Turkey and worldwide.
To be honest, I don’t usually prefer to attend the tours and organisations in person if I don’t find it really necessary. And I certainly have my own reasons for this; I don’t think we have to go for miles and miles to reach the information since we live in the age of technology, and staying away from home for a long time can be quite difficult. However, setting aside all these opinions, I accepted to go to the Tour d’Azerbaidjan. This was because after a meeting with our Media Team, we agreeed that it would be the best if I went there in person, instead of any other interviewer from our team. I had already felt exhausted after the Tour of Turkey, where I proudly transmitted the information to our followers. During that 8-day marathon, which was broadcasted for only one and a half hours on TV, I tried to keep our followers and bicycle enthusiasts updated with each little moment and progress of the race, including interviews, information on the stages and backstage, while I was counting down for the last day to go home and it became more tiring day by day. I really had prejudice before I went there, since it was a low category race and I didn’t know that I would be a fan of Azerbaijan after my experience.
The 49th edition of Tour of Turkey ended on April 28th successfully with its final stage, İstanbul-İstanbul, and the next day was a turning point for me. My “home, sweet home” expectations at the end of the Tour, which we broadcated in Turkish, English and German, brought new kilometers to me this year. I wanted to be in my friends’ place when they simply said “goodbye” and went home, while I had to head home to leave my Tour of Turkey suitcase and take the one I prepared for Azerbaijan. I could enjoy just 2 hours of relaxation at home and it passed in the twinkle of an eye and I was still judging myself for this decision I had made, since 7 days of Azerbaijan after 10 days of efforts all through the Tour of Turkey would be really difficult for me. But it was too late; for the Azerbaijani people, I had already set all of my excuses aside this time for a 2.2 category road race, which would be held only for the second time. When I looked at the stages and the profiles, I didn’t even think that I would enjoy the tour, which I was pretty sure that Torku Şeker Spor would win. But in my mind, I had the thought of being brother countries with Azerbaijan, and supporting the sport of cycling in both their and our countries. Finally the next day, I found myself at the airport.
When I arrived in Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport, I witnessed a scene that pleased me much, because I thought that those kinds of behaviours were left behind long ago. There was a lady with a child, waiting for her turn at the visa queue. An Azerbaijani attendant took her to the front and helped her finish the procedure quickly. With this experience, I met the kindness of the Azerbaijani people and their culture a little bit earlier than I expected. After the attendant from the race organisation handled the arrival procedure for me, I had the opportunity to have a chat with the private driver who took me to the hotel I would stay, where I was more than glad to meet the Azerbaijani language which was 60% similar to Turkish. I had already started to feel better when I saw the hospitality of the organisation and the sincerity of the people I met starting from the first day. And when I saw the menu at the restaurant, I became even more delighted.
For a moment I couldn’t be sure if I was in Turkey or Azerbaijan. Then, risking my appetite, I chose a meal that would be difficult to imitate abroad, and I thought to myself that they wouldn’t cook it successfully. But I had to take the risk and see difference. The result… It was awesome! It was inimitable! I wondered if the cook was Turkish or not and I got my answer. You could come across the Turkish cuisine anywhere anytime. So now, Azerbaijan was already beyond my expectations of being our brother country.
The first day, we visited the historical places of Baku, the brother city of Izmir, together with the press, following our guide. The same day, there was the opening ceremony of the 2.2 category race and the team presentations. Do you have any idea why I mention the category of the race repeatedly? It might be because I have never seen an opening ceremony organised for a 2.2 race in Turkey. So I think this was a nice detail. When we arrived the square surrounded by the police, I found it a bit exaggerated, since I wasn’t expecting much participation from the public.
Apparently, I was wrong; when the teams presentation had started, there were about 3000 people approaching. When it was Synergy Baku Cycling Project’s turn to be presented, the Azerbaijani people cheered for their one and only team and their voice echoed at the boulevard near the Caspian Sea. And when Torku Şeker Spor team was on the stage, I heard the same cheers again. That ambience cannot be described; for one should experience it in person. That spectacular moment, I felt that the politics and the diplomacy couldn’t effect the hearts of the people of our forgotten neighbor at all. It indicated that I was not the only one feeling proud of Torku Şeker Spor’s success and this increased my enthusiasm.
I was just thinking about how long the opening ceremony of a 2.2 event could last, that they announced the concert of Mustafa Ceceli, who’s a famous pop musician in Turkey. There were at least 5000 people who came to the concert and there was a magnificent ceremony. This made me think that the organisation intented to say, “We’re not organising this event as a 2.2 category race! It’s just that this is only the second year of this event.”
I won’t explain the details of the hosting committee and the service, but it was nice that they obtained a cellphone for me to use in Azerbaijan and easily keep in contact with the organisation. Besides, I saw the enthusiasm for cycling and how valuable this sport was in this country. The stages were held without any problems in general. Of course there were some little issues, but the notes were taken for the next year in order to clear them away. The winds of Baku, which is hosting a desert, the Caucasus Mountains and high-altitude parcours, made me think of new projects such as building new centers for cycling. I guess the only difficulty might be that Azerbaijan was at the beginning of the road, but making progress with conscious steps.
My friends and followers have seen the pictures I’ve shared. When I saw Qabala and the beauty of its nature, I understood that I should rearrange my living area which I had already arranged compatibly to the nature before. The first moment I saw there, it was love at first sight. Tiredness? Did anyone say “tiredness”? I just left my suitcase to the room, and even forgot my room keys and enjoyed getting locked out. You should see this green, fantastic, fairy tale land at the heart of the Caucasus Mountains at an altitude of 2000 meters.
The last day, at the interviews that I made with the President of UCI, Pat McQuide, I made a crazy suggestion, to help the development of cycling in Azerbaijan. Since I don’t want to shock you with the video of the interview, I wanted to share these details before sharing the warm reactions that I received. I wonder the opinions of you, my dear readers, as well, about this crazy suggestion, which caused my friends in the foreign press start calling me “Trouble Maker” instead of “Android Journalist”. To give a tiny little clue could be exciting and I’ll enjoy sharing this feeling with you:
My suggestion was to build a velodrome in Baku, as a new cycling center in Asia. This idea originated from this 2.2 category event and was taken into consideration by the authorities right away. So since Turkey and Azerbaijan are known to be “One nation, two states”, would this idea make you feel the same way too? A facility like this in our brother country, which we share almost the same culture, language and cuisine… Imagine its influence on the future of Turkey and the Turkish cyclists? Maybe we should leave the word “utopic” aside and believe to make this dream come true. As a consequence, I may have written a boring introduction part in this article, where I honestly tried to explain my feelings and tiredness before going to Azerbaijan and my hesitations about it. However, I would like you to know that now that I saw the development in Azerbaijan and the excellent organisation quality of the Tour, my thoughts are totally different. I felt the sense of wonder. Thanks to the hard-working and enthusiastic directors of the country and the Tour, who prepared a gorgeous event, I believe that Azerbaijan and the Tour d’Azerbaidjan will make great progress in the forthcoming years.
Written by: Aylin Koç
Translated by: Deniz Çağırgan