Witnessing international sporting events in Baku has become the norm over the last few years. Beginning with the European Games in 2015, the action hasn’t stopped since, with the city hosting the 42nd Chess Olympiad in 2016, followed by the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 and two editions of Formula One.
Early this summer it was the turn of the annual UCI BMX World Championships, which took place in the Azerbaijani capital from 5-9 June. This was the 23rd edition of what is BMX’s top competition and included the BMX World Challenge – three days of races organised according to age classes, and the BMX World Championships – two days of elite racing amongst BMX cycling’s best junior and senior athletes. Event winners were crowned BMX cycling world champions and won the right to wear a rainbow-coloured jersey until next year’s world championships in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.
The championships took place at Baku’s BMX Velopark, which was constructed in 2014 on previously disused land ahead of the inaugural European Games. Following those, the track had to be largely reconstructed in 2016 after the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), under whose framework the event is held, changed its specifications for length, width and turn height. A Caucasian leopard was chosen as the 2018 edition’s mascot, symbolising the speed and agility synonymous with BMX.
Described by the BBC as fast and undulating, with big jumps and tight curves, the Baku course lived up to its reputation, although the first few days of Challenge races passed without major incident. Things became a little more interesting, however, with the appearance of Baku’s notoriously strong winds. Riders had no doubt been informed about the city’s reputation as one of the windiest in the world and they found out why on Friday 8 June as gusts of over 30 km/h led to the Elite competition being postponed until the following day. This meant that all the Elite and Junior men’s and women’s races – both qualifying and finals – had to be crammed into one day.
But what a thrilling day it was, especially in the Elite men’s and women’s competitions. The men’s event culminated in a photo finish between two French riders – Sylvain André came from behind to pip compatriot Joris Daudet to gold with Brazilian cyclist Anderson Ezequiel de Souza Filho in third. Meanwhile it was the Netherlands that dominated the women’s event. After one of the pre-race favourites, American rider Alise Post, crashed out, Dutch sisters Laura and Merel Smulders cruised to first and second respectively, with fellow Dutch rider Judy Baauw taking bronze.
Aside from the sporting element, Baku’s aim in holding grand sporting events such as these is also to raise the country’s profile and attract tourism. So it will certainly have helped that, besides the wide international television and social media coverage, over 1,500 athletes from more than 40 countries competed in these world championships, bringing with them an entourage of trainers, family and fans. In terms of their experiences of Baku, here are some of the comments received on the UCI BMX World Championships Facebook page:
Hats off to the amazing athletes who participated in the 2018 BMX World Championships in Baku! Adrenaline overload just from watching!!! The track and the overall organization of the event was top notch. Great job!...
Security was top notch all week! Thank you for making sure everyone was safe, from the guards at the track to the armed guard in front of our hotel. Venue was absolutely beautiful, track was awesome and staff was friendly. Only downfall was the taxis trying to rip us off, which was not your doing. One guy wanted to charge us 20 Manat each after we got to our destination. After that we only used Uber. Congrats on a great event and thank you again for keeping our safety top priority!...
First worlds event. Loved every minute of it...
In case you missed Baku’s hosting of the 2018 UCI BMX World Championships, relive the best of the action and atmosphere at the city’s velopark in early June with this selection of photos by talented local photographer Murad Orujov.