The 2018 UCI BMX World Championships – an annual event for BMX racing, or bicycle motocross – kicked off in Baku on Tuesday as nearly 1,520 athletes from over 60 countries compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in cycling.
“This championship is a major sporting event for Azerbaijan,” said the first Vice-President of Azerbaijan Cycling Federation and member of the UEC Management Board Sahib Alakbarov in his interview with 1News.
For the first time in its history Azerbaijan was chosen to host the event, accepting the baton from the previous segment held in Nashville, Tennessee in late May and is followed by the Midwest Nationals - Day 1 race, in Rockford, Illinois.
The BMX, held under the regulations of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), is a relatively new kind of sport, which has become very popular and has the largest audience. Every year, the best of the best BMX athletes race elbow to elbow over jumps and into turns using any gaps to move into a front position on the track.
The BMX track in Baku was constructed in 2014 to host the 2015 European Games. In 2017, the track was upgraded, following UCI-mandated changes. The facility fully corresponds to all international standards and has received positive feedback from athletes, who has took a chance to try it before the big race.
“To date, our stadium fully complies with international standards,” said the Assistant to Azerbaijan’s First Vice President, Anar Alakbarov.
“Since early 2018, teams from Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Russia have visited Baku and conducted training here. All of them highly appreciated our stadium and the conditions created here.”
Alakbarov also noted that the UCI BMX World Championships are unique because of its age requirements: Children as well as adults are allowed to participate. At the moment, there are about 1,300 people in the Challenge group, while in the Elite there are over 215. Over 700 of the roughly 1,500 participants are under 16 years of age.
The UCI BMX World Championships happening this week are just one of many international sporting events Azerbaijan has hosted in recent years to promote its image and brand, and attract tourists to what is considered a well-developed, open society welcoming to visitors from all parts of the world.
The first international cycling championship for young people under the age of 23 was held in Azerbaijan in 2012, and one year later Tour d'Azerbaidjan – an annual International Tournament – was held there.
“In terms of promoting the country, cycling is the second after the race of Formula 1,” Alakbarov noted, referring to the Grand Prix races that have become a mainstay in sports in the country, having already hosted three and slated to host them for the next seven years.
“Suffice to say that last year, 32 million people watched the Tour d'Azerbaidjan on 72 TV channels in 56 countries,” Alakbarov pointed.
Velopark in Baku is the main venue for those looking to watch the races in person over the next five days. The event is also being streamed live online, which can be viewed via the official website of the Union Cycliste Internationale.