With its Soviet past, huge mountains, proximity to Europe and powerful cycling nation of Iran just over the border, Azerbaijan would be an interesting place for a bike race – if not for the fact the Tour of Azerbaijan is actually held in Iran. Cycling iQ takes a brief look at what it’s all about (even though the race started yesterday – better late than never).
“Where is Azerbaijan?” is the question some readers may first ask? It’s here, with Iran to the south, Russia to the north, Armenia to the west and bordered by the Caspian Sea to the east. After 70 years of incorporation, Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991. The majority of its estimated 9,500,000 population are of Turkic and shia Muslim descent. Much of the nation’s revenue is generated from oil exports, but the wealth is not evenly spread – per capita GDP is estimated at USD10,200. The CIA states “corruption in the country is ubiquitous”, which would make the 2012 race motto of “win clean” somewhat ironic – if indeed it were held in Azerbaijan, instead of the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan.
East Azerbaijan lies at the northwest of Iran, bordering the Republic of Azerbaijan (see above) and Armenia. First held in 1986, this will be the 27th edition of the Tour of Azerbaijan. Starting and finishing in the provincial capital of Tabriz, the race carries a UCI2.2 rating and is one of the 35 races that makes up the 2012 UCI AsiaTour season. Given Iran is a Middle-Eastern country, this begs the question: is it an Asian or European race? The Azerbaijan National Cycling Federation is affiliated to the European Cycling Conederation, whereas Iran is affiliated to the Asian Cycling Confederation. Wherever the Tour Of Azerbaijan ends up in the future, it remains worthy of a mention here.
At no time during the race will riders be below an elevation of 1,100 metres. Combined with the province’s location at the top of the subtropical zone, this means temperatures will range between 10-30°C during the week ahead. Rainfall is also not uncommon during the month of May.
Andalucia, as the sole ProContinental team, should be seeking to take control of the race from stage one, but the local teams will not make it easy for them; Iran topped the UCI’s Asia Tour rankings for the 2011 season. Elite cyclists from this region are highly regarded for their big engines and ability to drive a relentlessly high pace. Every stage, with the exception of the finale in Tabriz, is mountainous; Tuesday’s Queen stage features 2,000 metres of vertical gain and peaks at over 3,000m elevation. [Note: the province's highest point is Sahand Mountain at 3,722 metres]
Teams must have a minimum of four, and maximum of six, riders and four officials. Of the 105 starters, 49 riders are registered with National Cycling Federations within the UCI’s Asia Continental Circuit.
Iran’s Tabriz Petrochemical Team has won six of the last ten Tours of Azerbaijan, but last year’s winner Mehdi Sohrabi will not be starting due to his late 2011 promotion into the UCI WorldTour with Lotto-Belisol. The most recent victor to line up in Tabriz on Friday will be Hossein Askari (2008 winner), riding for Tabriz Petrochemical Team (TPT). Interestingly, rival Azad University Cross team hasn’t flown in any of its Colombian recruits to help unseat Askari in the mountains.
*Colossi Miche and Uzbekistan National team were included on the original entry list but did not start.
Four jerseys will be awarded at the conclusion of each stage:
Leader of General Classification – Yellow
Leader of Points Classification – Green
Leader of King of the Mountains (KOM) Classification – Polka Dot
Leader of best Aisan Rider classification – White
Here’s the breakdown: [To be listed once available]
Overall winner (individual) =
Overall team =
Overall team (Asian) =
Overall KOM =
Overall Points =
Stage winner =
The official Tour of Azerbaijan website is quite convoluted, but most basic race information is accessible with patience. To date, no race manual has been made available for download and detailed stage profiles, featuring KOM and intermediate sprint milestones, are not evident either. English is the official language for communicating stage results, reports and updates, but so far not even Cyclingnews.com has bothered to mention the race. [A big thank you to Dan Loy from OCBC Singapore Cycling Team for forwarding start lists and stage results daily to Cycling iQ.]
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Tabriz – Urmiyeh 141km
Friday, 11 May 2012
Stage 2 | Urmiyeh – Shabestar 174km
Saturday, 12 May 2012
Stage 3 | Tabriz – Miyaneh 155km
Sunday, 13 May 2012
Stage 4 | Qara chaman – Ardabil 194km
Monday, 14 May 2012
Stage 5 | Sarein – Sahand 188km
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Stage 6 | Tabriz – Tabriz 76km
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
* map not available