The Synergy Baku team has been an aggressive presence at the Tour de Langkawi, with Matt Brammeier coming close to victory on the opening day and all but securing the mountain’s jersey with just a handful of stages remaining.
The Azeri continental team took 14 victories in their debut season and if this week is anything to go by they are keen to improve on it. One of the men behind the team's success is former rider turned directeur sportif Jeremy Hunt.
A veteran of 17 seasons on the bike, Hunt is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to competing, but he had no intention of becoming a directeur sportif when he quit in 2012. Despite that, he says that he is more than happy his new role. "I love the job. When I stopped I wasn't sure what it was going to be like but I enjoy it," Hunt told Cyclingnews at the Tour de Langkawi, where the team are racing.
Hunt began his cycling career with Banesto in 1996 and took victories at the Tour de l'Avenir and the GP Ouest-France. He is also a two-time British National Champion. He spent his last two seasons with the Sky team and was one of the British team to help Mark Cavendish to his World Championship title in 2011. After being a rider for such a long time, Hunt took a while to adjust to the new position.
"It's funny because you're telling riders what to do now. Before, when you were a rider, you used to ride fast and that was it. It's definitely not easy, not when you've been riding your bike for so long. It's definitely not an easy transition," he explained. "But because cycling is something that I love, I'm in a sport that I love and once you get used to it, it's easy."
As a rider, Hunt's job was to turn up, ride his bike and go home at the end of the day. Being a directeur, he says, has given him an appreciation about what goes on behind the scenes to make the riders' jobs as easy as possible. "A DS does a lot of work," he said. "I think as a bike rider, you just expect to get up in the morning, have your breakfast and go ride your bike, get some results and go back to bed and that's how easy it was. That's how it should be with the bike riders. As a DS you try to organise a lot more."
The Baku Cycling Project was created to develop cycling in Azerbaijan, with the intention of getting an entrant into the Rio Olympics. However, their roster has a very international feel with only five riders coming from their home country. While the emphasis is on Azerbaijan, Hunt says the team has a dual purpose. "I'm all about the Azeris and trying to make them better bike riders," he said to Cyclingnews. "I was offered a mentoring role with the Azeris and I go to a few races with them and try to make them become better bike riders.
"At the same time, I like to have riders who maybe didn't quite make ProTour but are still young enough to make ProTour or Pro-Continental and just give them a chance to ride the bigger races. If they perform there then they can move onto other teams."
With the team's success in its debut year, there has been talk of them trying to move up themselves, but Hunt says that they cannot forget why they were created in the first place. "They want to progress, but we have to think about the Azerbaijan riders first. That's why we're here and we can't forget that," he tells Cyclingnews. "We can't just make ourselves into this massive big team and then we can't even ride the races we need to ride to make them better. We hear lots of things about them wanting to, but for me I'm quite happy just doing what I'm doing."