Book A Cycling Tour
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google Plus Share on LinkedIn Share on Email
Pioneers Leg 11 – Tbilisi to Baku

Pioneers Leg 11 – Tbilisi to Baku

Who are the Pioneers?

All the riders who have participated in any of the very first ten legs of our UK to Sydney adventure are in an exclusive club called the ‘Ride25 Pioneers’.  Each year the Pioneers will be invited to complete the next leg for the very first time and raise money for 1moreChild.  Pioneers help to define the journey and adventure to Sydney.

2024 is Leg 11 (of 25 legs) from the UK to Sydney.  To get a flavour of the previous legs visit the Pioneer Photos and Pioneer Videos.

 

Snapshot of Leg 11

  • Contrasts – Georgian vineyards, mountains, ancient Azerbaijani villages, rural ways of life, holiday resorts and the exotic cities of Tbilisi and Baku.
  • Climb out of the cosmopolitan city of Tbilisi and through the mountains in Tbilisi National Park.
  • Cycle through the Georgian wine region in the foothills of the Caucasus mountain range and enjoy a wine tasting in a Georgian Chateau.
  • Cross the Georgia / Azerbaijan border with special permission from the President.
  • Dinner in a steak restaurant at the top of a ski resort.
  • Cycle through the oldest settlement in Azerbaijan.
  • Good quality hotels throughout.
  • Final party in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku – “the achitectural love child of Paris and Dubai with plenty of soviet genes”!

See the whole route for Leg 11 below or you can click here for a full page map (Best viewed on a desktop).

 

 

Start:

Tbilisi  – 08.00 Sunday 23rd June 2024

Finish:

Baku – 18.00 Wednesday 26th June 2024

Days Cycling:

4

Distance:

350 miles

Total climbing:

27,535 ft ascent

Road Surface

100% tarmac

Max capacity:

90 including crew. It is possible to increase the size this year but if we do later sign-ups will be in secondary hotels on nights one and three.

Itinerary

We will be cycling for 4 days from Sunday 23rd June to Wednesday 26th June 2024. You will need to arrive in Tbilisi by Saturday 22nd June and leave Baku on or after 27th June 2024.

Pre-Start – Tbilisi 7.30pm Saturday 22nd June.

Drinks & dinner in the same venue as the final party of Leg 10, next to the big bike. Very informal. Chance to see everyone again, collect shirts etc. Pay as you go.

 

 

Day 1 – Tbilisi to Telavi – 80.2 miles, 8,158 ft total ascent.

We leave Tbilisi with a short climb and then cycle around a reservoir before reaching the Chronicle of Georgia Monument. The first 14 miles are busier until we get out the city and are rewarded with beautiful climbing on quiet roads up into Tbilisi National Park. Gorgeous descent into the heart of Georgia’s premier wine producing area. Home for the night is a modern Chateau (Soho House style) in Telavi where we will have a local wine tasting pre-dinner.

Day 1 – Full route including elevation profile, stops, photos & GPX EXPORT

Day 2 – Telavi to Qakh – 98.8 miles, 5,223 ft total ascent.

A morning spent in the wine region en route to the Border. Flat, fast road as we follow the Russian border with great views to the Caucasus mountains. Lunch is at a Chateau before entering Azerbaijan. The afternoon involves some more climbing as we head to The Ilisu State Nature Reserve. Home for the night is Azerbaijan’s first 5* hotel in Qakh with an opportunity for the first Ride25 Bowling Competition.

Day 2 – Full route including elevation profile, stops, photos & GPX EXPORT


Day 3 – Qakh to Gabala – 91 miles, 6,112 ft total ascent

Lovely day cycling with a mixture of quiet country lanes and the busier main road all with views to the Caucasus Mountains. Our ultimate destination is Gabala, known as “Azerbaijani Switzerland”. Gabala is located in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus and is one of the ancient cities of Azerbaijan. We are staying in a ski resort to the north of town and will travel by ski lift to a steak restaurant at the top of the mountain.

Day 3 – Full route including elevation profile, stops, photos & GPX EXPORT.

Day 4 – Gabala to Baku – 80 miles, 8,044 ft total ascent

Best day of the trip – gorgeous days cycling as we head off the main road to Baku and to the ancient pretty highland village of Lahic through a geologically unusual canyon. Lahic, a classic stop on the silk route was founded in the 5th century BC making it the oldest settlement in the country. Tough climb as we go to an elevation of nearly 7,000 ft – the highest ascent of the trip and 3rd highest across all 11 legs. On the descent we pass thought the Pirgulu State Reserve – home to brown bears, forest cats and the Astrophysical Oberservatory.

We finish in Shamakhi, pack up the bikes and go by bus to Baku.  Shamakhi is the perfect place to ultimately begin our journey south for Leg 12 to Tehran and avoids the unsafe road through the desert to Baku.

Day 4 – Full route including elevation profile, stops, photos & GPX EXPORT.

 

Political Uncertainty

Azerbaijan is a stable, developed country and the UK Foreign Office advice has allowed travel to most of the country uninterrupted for many years.  There has been an ongoing dispute with Armenia regarding an area called Nagorno-Karabakh – this has been fought over for many decades. There is a ceasefire that was agreed in September 2023 but in any event we are travelling circa 200KM further north in an area that has had no issues.

In addition, the land border between Georgia & Azerbaijan has been closed for several years and is likely to remain so when we travel in June 24. The official stated reason for this is COVID. The Minister of Defence has granted us special dispensation to cross the border and we have several high level contacts that should enable smooth travel.

We have also taken advise from an Ex UK Foreign Secretary who did not see any reason why we shouldn’t travel.

In the highly unlikely event that the trip becomes unridable as a result of any changes in either Azerbaijan or Georgia we will endeavour to change the routes / hotels to ensure that we still have 4 days riding starting in Tbilisi on 23rd June. However remember you are a “Pioneer” for a reason and we will all share the risk of last minute changes!!!!!

Visas

For British passport holders Visas for Georgia are issued when you arrive so you don’t need to do anything in advance.

For Azerbaijan you need to apply for a VISA in advance here. Please check yourself if you don’t have a British passport.

Which hotels are we staying in?

For the first time in 11 Legs we do not need to warn you about any of the hotels. The hotels are by far the best we have stayed in on the journey so far – and there are no dodgy ones! All the hotels have proper bars and sometimes pools, spas, bowling alleys, wine cellars, ski lifts +++

The package includes the hotel in Tbilisi on Saturday 22nd and in Baku on Wednesday 23rd June If you wish to book extra nights you can email the hotels below:

Pre-Start – Tbilisi – 4+* Modern Hotel with pools, Spa etc. Radisson Blu Tbilisi.  Same as the Leg 10 finish. Contact Ekaterine for extra nights ekaterine.litanishvili@radissonblu.com.

Night 1 – Tevali – 4* Modern boutique hotel & wine cellar. Esquisse Hotel

Night 2 – Qakh – 4* Modern Family resort hotel with bowling alley. El Resort

Night 3 – Gabala – 5* Ski Resort. Qafqaz Tufandag Mountain Resort Hotel.

Night 4 – Baku – 4* Hotel in the City Centre. Baku Intercontinental. Contact Afag for extra nights afag.salmanli@icbaku.com.

On night 1 – some twin rooms will be triples. On night 3 some single / twin rooms will be combined in 2 bedroom family suites. First sign-ups will be in these hotels, in the event the group is larger there will be secondary hotels nearby on nights 1 and 3.

How does the trip compare to previous legs?

It would be easy to be complacent after Leg 10 but in reality it is a big challenge – 4 days riding with a total of 350 miles. Days 1 and 4 are still quite long and are mountainous – the average climbing per day is the fourth highest of all 11 legs – only legs 5,6 and 8 were higher. We also go to the third highest peak elevation of all the legs at 6,700ft.

Click for data on previous legs.

In total by the end of Leg 11 the journey so far is nearly 4,500 miles.

June is the best time of year to visit Azerbaijan before the weather gets hotter and drier.

What is the route like?

As always the challenge has been to find interesting, quiet cycling on good tarmac with great scenery and good quality hotels. There is always an element of compromise, however the route is almost all very enjoyable with only small compromises required across the trip.

Traffic – The majority is on quiet roads however it is busy leaving Tbilisi.  We have changed the start day of the trip so that we leave Tbilisi on Sunday morning which should be quieter and avoid the “weekend” traffic on the roads from Baku to the mountains by cycling there mid-week.  The days are quiet for the majority of the day and we leave the bigger roads to go into the mountains.

Scenery – All green and mountainous. You can see the Caucasus Mountains and the natural Russian border in the distance for most of the trip. Surprisingly you’ll only see the arid landscapes at the end of day 4 on the way to Baku.

Dual Carriageway – None.

Road Surfaces – Pretty good throughout.  Mountain roads on days 1 and 4. The road surface is slightly damaged in the mountains on day 4.

Tunnels – None!!

 

Health & Safety and General wellbeing

As in previous legs:

  • Cycling on the roads in Georgia / Azerbaijan in the dark even with lights is not safe. We expect everyone to finish by 6pm but we will pick up any cyclists at the afternoon coffee stop if there is a risk they would still be cycling in the dark.
  • Using RidewithGPS should further reduce any navigation issues and will enable easier diversions if required.
  • As in previous legs we will demand insurance details before you cycle – this is important so that we can contact your insurer in the event that you are unconscious and your next of kin is uncontactable or doesn’t know your insurance details.
  • We will also have a Medic and Georgian / Azerbajani Tour Guide on the crew again.
  • Mel, Margot, Dan, Adam, Eleni, Clare and Ceri-Ann will supporting the tour as usual.

In addition we will encourage everyone to use a product like this to toughen up tummies for the journey. Endurance sport does put short term pressure on your body – particularly if you push it hard.  Coupled with eating food in local restaurants and hot weather there is clearly a higher risk than normal of attracting food poisoning.

There is no point in pushing too hard – enjoy the scenery you’ll never cycle these roads again. We will have 6 x vehicles available too and you can be picked up without getting any abuse. We will also discourage drinking any water from taps or village fountains – better safe than sorry.

How will I navigate?

Same navigation suggestions as in Leg 10.

We request that everyone does both of the following:

1) RidewithGPS Phone App

This is far superior to Strava for navigation for the following reasons:

  1. Elevation data is accurate
  2. All routes can be downloaded at home and are available without roaming / data turned on
  3. All lunch / coffee stops are plotted including photos
  4. Detailed maps available if you get lost even with no signal
  5. High quality navigation setting including turn by turn prompts that enables you to navigate with ease without a Garmin (portable phone charger required)
  6. Zoomable elevation data visible

The routes are all provided on RidewithGPS.  You need to:

  • Download the App
  • Create a RidewithGPS account
  • Save the routes into you account –  Day 1.  Day 2.  Day 3. Day 4.
  • Download the routes on your phone in the App so they are available online / out of signal

You can still use Strava to track your rides but have RidewithGPS on your phone as a backup for navigation. If you are using RidewithGPS to navigate you will need a portable battery supply to get you through the day.

If you convert the RidewithGPS routes into Strava routes the elevation data will lose much of its accuracy.

 

2) Garmin / GPS 

As we are now out of Europe you may not have access to maps on your Garmin. There is a great description here of how to download maps onto your Garmin for free.

As always we do not follow the quickest routes each day – the routes are planned to minimise busy roads and maximise the scenery and significant places. We also try to avoid poor road surfaces.

If using Garmin to prevent navigation problems please:

  • Follow a the route as a “Course”
  • Ensure that “Autocorrect” is turned off in your settings for each course
  • Do not “navigate to start” when prompted at the start of a ride

As usual Ride25 will provide a cloth map that will get you out of trouble if you are lost with no working devices but to navigate effectively you’ll need to use a Garmin or equivalent.

 

What do I wear?

Normal cycling attire is fine for both sexes across the whole route.

 

Do I need to train?

YES.  350 miles cycling is a significant challenge for anyone particularly during the summer but as in previous years it is achievable. We highly recommend you follow a training schedule. 

As in previous years you can always call the support team if you need picked up at any point. We will have a total of 4 x people carriers plus 2 x vans so that it is easy to get picked up if required.

In addition we will operate a sweeper system that means the crew will pick you up if you are too far behind the rest of the riders / are not going to make it to the finish before the sun sets.

The trip is in no way a race – everyone can take their time.  Breakfast will be at 06.30 each day so that you can leave early.

Flights

As usual you will need to arrange your own flights. You will need to fly to Tbilisi – ideally find a flight which avoids changing airports in Istanbul – they are a long way apart with a bike box! The flight schedule is not ideal with most UK flights landing very late at night. Many will arrive in Tbilisi a day or two earlier. Use Ride25 Pioneer Sponsor Skyscanner to find the best deals.

You will also need to book a flight back from Baku – there is one direct flight to Heathrow on Thursday 27th June with Azerbaijan Airlines.

 

What is the cost?

Cost: £1,450 per person with a single supplement of £500. As in all previous Pioneer trips this is a not for profit – ie the cost is a sum of the direct costs of running the trip only.

The price has gone up again despite the trip being shorter – a combination of a few factors:

  • The hotel quality and therefore prices per night are far far higher than the last leg.
  • We have added some events into the evening such as a wine tasting and a trip on a ski lift as they are available but pricey.
  • Logistics are still more complicated / expensive with the border crossing.
  • The last two legs have seen unforeseen costs above budget.

This includes:

  • 5 x nights accommodation in Tbilisi, Tevali, Qakh, Gabala and Baku
  • 5 x breakfast
  • 4 x lunch
  • 4 x dinner including celebration party in Baku
  • 6 x manned support vehicles including 2 x bike mechanics, medic & local tour guides
  • Transportation of bags each day to the finish
  • Transportation of bike boxes from Tbilisi to Baku
  • Water, fruit and supplies in the vehicles
  • 4 x personalised cycling shirts – ensure you enter the correct shirt size when you register
  • 4 x GPS files of the routes
  • 4 x “get out of trouble” cloth maps

50% Deposit due on booking, balancing payment due in Feb 2024. No deposit refunds – any deposits forfeited and donated to 1moreChild if there is a surplus.

Please pay by Bank transfer only – you will receive an invoice with bank details when you register.

What’s not included?

Optional extras:

  • Single room.

Book Cycling Holiday Now

What happens after Leg 11?

At the moment Legs 12 and 13 through Iran are unlikely to be possible while the Foreign Office Advice is against travel to Iran.  Hopefully relations will thaw and this will become safe before too long.

In the meantime we will continue our journey through India starting with Leg 14 from Jaisalmer to Agra in October / November 2025.

 

What are we raising money for?

As in previous years all participants shall pay all their own costs and all money raised shall go straight to 1moreChild.

What is 1moreChild?

1moreChild was set-up by Harry & Hen Ferdinando in 2008 to help enable street children in Jinja, Uganda to go to school and prosper. Ride25 raises money for 1moreChild for the following key reasons:

A small amount of money goes along way – as little as £15 per month can transform a child’s life. 100% of all money donated to 1moreChild goes to tackle the problem.  There are no western overheads, admin costs or wastage. In addition Harry & Hen pay all their own costs. The money raised from the cycle will make an enormous difference to 1moreChild and enable them to take many more children out of the slum.

1moreChild provide school fees, 3 meals a day, school uniforms, school supplies, shoes, clothes, medical care, tutoring, mentoring, a football club and various other activities.

Visit 1moreChild.org for more info.

What impact has the money raised by the Pioneers had?

The Pioneers cycle trip is the most significant fundraising initiative for the charity with circa 70% of their overall funding coming from this trip.  We have raised nearly £1.5 million for the charity across legs 1 to 10.

As a result of our trips 1moreChild has taken nearly 200 children off the streets and given them everything they need to go to school. Many of the children have now gone on to do great things including studying at University and representing Uganda at cycling!

See update here on 1moreChild in July 2023.

 

How to book a place?

Initial Payment: £725 payable to confirm place in a twin room OR £975 in a single room. This will be donated to 1moreChild in the event that you pull out. Alternatively make the full payment of £1,450 (twin) or £1,950 (single) now to avoid further admin.

 

Book Cycling Holiday Now

What about Ride25 Pioneer Virgins?

You can invite your friends but we will ask them to make a commitment to fundraising for 1moreChild.

What are the opportunities for sponsorship? 

We have put together a number of packages but are also open to offers from anyone for anything.

Cyclists pay for the costs of the shirts, banners etc so all the money given in sponsorship goes directly to 1moreChild. The more you sponsor the largest exposure your logo will get.

A number of places on the ride have been saved for Sponsors even if they are not Pioneers.

What about individual sponsorship?

Please do create your own personal sponsorship page using Givestar or use the Group page to raise money by sending it to all your contacts. Alternatively you can donate direct to 1moreChild or make a donation from overseas through the 1mC website.

Auction

After the hugely successful auction at the end of Leg 10 run by Hayden Foster we will run a similar event in Baku at the finish party.  This year we will produce a detailed online brochure in advance so you can plan what to bid for!

If you have any possible lots please mention them when you register.

What else do / don’t I need to do beforehand?

  • Bike Service – make sure you book a Bike Service before you travel – you may need to book this a few weeks in advance but will seriously reduce the chance of issues on the ride.
  • Bike Fit – if you haven’t it’s worth getting your bike fitted properly by a professional – it will help prevent injury.
  • Visas – For Azerbaijan you need to apply for a VISA in advance here. Please check yourself if you don’t have a British passport.
  • Book a transfer from the airport to Tbilisi.
  • Buy & Pack an Apple Airtag /  Android Tracker for your Bike Box – very useful if there are issues with bike boxes.
  • Use a rucksack for your clothes – at the Georgian / Azerbaijan border you will need to cross the border with your Bike, Bike Box & your overnight bag – this will only be possible if you have rucksack for your belongings.

What else do I need to bring?

  • High Quality rear bike light for safety
  • Hydration Tablets – such as Precision Fuel & Hydration – critical for multi day long distances  particularly if it’s hot.
  • 2 x large water bottles for hydration drinks and water – very important on this leg – there are frequently large distances where it is impossible refill.
  • Hard wearing tyres
  • Helmet
  • Large saddle bag with –  2 x spare inner tubes, puncture repair kit and tyre leavers
  • Cycle pump or gas canisters
  • Sun cream
  • Phone mount if you are using RidewithGPS as a navigation tool
  • Portable battery charger for mobile
  • Garmin (or similar GPS navigation device)

Book Cycling Holiday Now