LANGKAWI, TUESDAY 19 Feb 2013 - Not many teams can boast of having a 2.HC UCI race as their debut, but that's is a unique honour the Synergy-Baku Cycling Project team from Azerbaijan will have on their palmares when they start the 18th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) from February 21 to March 2.
Barely two months into their formation, the team managed by former profiessional Jeremy Hunt aren't just looking to make up the numbers, they are coming to LTdL looking to take off to a winning start with the likes of local favourite Anuar Manan, the only Malaysian to have won a stage in this race, and experienced sprinter Rico Rogers of New Zealand, the team will be in with a shout in the bunch sprints.
With Hunt as director, Iran's Daryoush Mohammedzadeh also brings vital knowledge of the UCI Asia Tour scene to the squad, having spent his time in charge of two of Asia's top teams the Giant Asia Racing Team and Tabriz Petrochemical Team.
Another key figure in the direction of the squad is experienced Irishman David McCann, a legend as far as the UCI Asia Tour is concerned, having spent most of his illustrious career in this part of the world. At 39, McCann's task as team captain as well as performance analyst and coach indicates that he is easing himself into retirement as a rider.
In LTdL, McCann's duty will be to draw out the strategies for Namibian Dan Craven, Denmark's John Ebsen and Briton David Clarke in their bid for a challenge in the general classification.
Another Irishman, David McQuaid is on top of it all, as technical director and the man responsible for bringing it all together.
"The whole thing has happened pretty quickly, I met the Azeri Federation at the World Championships in Valkenburg, visited Baku in October, had Jeremy and David in place in November, riders in place soon after and registration documents done and dusted at the beginning of December. Really it was a hard 3 months work," said McQuaid.
"The Azerbaijan Federation had the idea a year ago, but when we met they were insistent that we do it. They want an Azeri rider on the start line at the Rio Olympics in 2016. We decided to call the team a project, because that’s what it is. It's to re-ignite cycling in Azerbaijan and produce some quality riders doing it.
"I'm delighted to have Jeremy and David here for this project. Both bring a wealth of experience and just like David, Jeremy wants to get into the coaching and development side of things post his long career. Jeremy will pay specific attention to the 6 Azeri riders and their race and training programme."
Hunt, who has one appearance in the Tour de France to look back on following a career highlighted by 13 UCI race victories, is excited to resume duties in cycling swiftly after announcing his retirement as a rider.
"I really didn't think that I would be back in cycling so soon after my retirement, but when I was offered the Baku Project role, it was too good an opportunity to be missed," said the 2001 British national road champion.
"Working with young athletes and helping them to achieve their goals and become professional bike riders is what I enjoy. A hands on job is doesn't scare me. It was myself that suggested to take the 6 Azeri riders to my base in Melbourne and train and test them, to make them suffer and ultimately get them into the best shape of their cycling lives before the Tour de Azerbaijan at the start of May, which ultimately is a huge goal for the team.
"With David McQuaid, we met the national riders in Baku in November. The enthusiasm is there, the base is there, we just need to work from there."
McCann is not one to turn down a challenge and will be at the forefront of the team's opening half of the season when they pit themselves against teams in familiar territory.
"I couldn't really turn it down to be honest. This is what I like. And the developmental side apart, really looking forward to racing on the UCI Asia Tour where the team will spend the first half of the season, as I can lend my knowledge and experience," said McCann.
"Looking forward to working with Ebsen and McConvey for GC, both are pure strong climbers. Langkawi could be interesting, as it's our first race also."
The LTdL 2013, which carries the slogan "The Heat is On", will officially begin in Kangar on February 21 and the race comprises 10 stages, covering 1469.7 kilometres.
The race is sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) as a 2.HC (hors category) race on the UCI Asia Tour calendar, organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, via the National Sports Council (NSC) in association with the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF).
SYNERGY-BAKU CYCLING PROJECT FOR LTDL 2013:
Anuar Manan (MAS), Rico Rogers (NZL), Kirill Pozdnyakov (RUS), Dan Craven (NAM), John Ebsen (DEN), David Clarke (GBR).