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From war in Aleppo to Worlds in Bergen: Syrian riders reunited

Nazir Jaser pulls to a standstill outside the registration building at the World Championships in Bergen, Norway. He rests his time trial bike against a nearby wall and delicately checks over his Syrian national skinsuit, gently ironing out any creases with his hands before making his way into the auditorium where he must register.

It's unusual for a rider to arrive like this. Most athletes here at the World Championships won't see the city centre until they're either competing or on a reconnaissance ride but Jaser is here to pick up his own race number. There are no WorldTour buses, carers, nor a plethora of support staff here. Not for Jaser, anyway.

Jaser, 28, is one of three Syrians racing in the World Championships, and on Wednesday he and compatriot Ahmad Badreddin will roll down the start ramp and pit their strength and wits against the Chris Froomes and Tom Dumoulins of this world. Twenty-four hours earlier a young 17-year-old, Mohamed Rayes lines up in the junior equivalent.

The triumvirate of athletes are in Bergen with the national coach, and Mohamed's father, Amin, but their extraordinary story does not begin here in Norway. It starts with a cycling federation fighting to survive through a bloody civil war; it continues with Jaser and his fellow cyclists fleeing for their lives and scattering through western Europe; and it carries through with the three of them arriving in Norway to compete in one of cycling's showcase events.

Finally, Badreddin appears. It's a reunion the pair never thought possible. The pair grew up together in war-torn Aleppo, and raced as part of the Syrian national team, but the once-teammates were forced to flee their homes when the war escalated and, until their meeting outside their hotel in Bergen, they had not seen each other for almost four years.

***

Inside the registration building Syria's cycling manager, Amin Rayes, arrives for the pre-race meeting that all managers and coaches must attend.

"The president of the federation couldn't get a visa to come here but because he's a friend he called me and today I've brought all the accessories the riders need, the national jerseys, and I've just come in from Lebanon. We want to support all cyclists and for us cycling is a big family. We should stand together."


Nader adds: "It was expensive for them and they were risking their own lives. For them it was a question of life or death."

***

"This has all made me think that it's possible to have a new life," Badreddin says as he clips into his pedals.

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Daniel Benson
Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.