Starting this month, ‘Neutral Zone’ will be a regular segment on Cycling iQ which gives readers the opportunity to learn a little more about the cyclists whose names appear on the start lists of UCI AsiaTour races.
In pro cycling parlance the neutral zone is a short section of road ridden by the peloton before racing officially gets underway. It offers a brief moment for riders to casually chat, which is the spirit of the Neutral Zone here. All words are their own, though Cycling iQ has lent spelling and grammatical support where needed.
Images: Mokhriz Aziz
I was born in Tabriz, Iran, on the sixth day of December, 1975. As a sixteen year old, I won some small bike races that were held in our school. I knew then I would love to be a cyclist. There are no other cyclists in my family. I have two boys; the first is five and the other is just one month old, but they are too small to choose any sport.
Every day, on average, I do between four and five hours training. I’m the coach for Tabriz Petrochemical Team, and I do my training with other teammates in the morning. I arrange the team’s road program, combining four days training with one day of rest. In my team, the most important point is teamwork; all riders have to work for the best result. Our country is in between 1400-1700 meters (elevation) so I look for hilly stage races where we can use our climbing talent to get good results.
In 2012, after 20 years of cycling, I got a problem with the discs in my back. The doctors in Iran, and from other countries, said if I wanted to continue cycling then I must have an operation, but I chose not to and only rested. After nine months, I started cycling again. I feel so much different than before. I feel more motivated and younger than I was in 2012. Tour de Langkawi (March 2013) was my first professional race after my back injury. My form kept getting better, and I was much stronger in the last stage in Le Tour de Filipinas, which was hard and very hilly.
I used to look up to the big riders (winners of the Tour de France) because at that time I thought they were “only” sportsmen. Now I feel differently about the same “big star” riders, because I like to be a champion and winner without any doping. In my opinion, he who is the clean rider is the best rider. When I win a bike race, I am very happy because I never look to others; I just do the hard work on the bike. I like the UCI’s anti-doping program and I want to help make cycling clean in the world.
I can’t say who will be the next big rider from Asia, or Iran, but they will need to have a good head as well as a good body. I feel sorry for myself sometimes that, when I started cycling, Iranian cycling was completely undeveloped, there were not any international races in Iran and nobody from pro cycling knew about cyclists from Iran. Now we have 10 races in this part of Asia and everybody knows about Iran’s pro cyclists. Diplomatic matters still make being an Iranian pro cycling difficult; especially getting visas to travel. I think nobody in the world should mix sports and politics.
Most people in Iran do not use bicycles for lifestyle, because the city is dangerous for cyclists and Iran’s media doesn’t look out for cycling. I cannot say how many years I can still be a cyclist but, in my mind now, I do not want to leave it.
– Asian Games ITT champion (1998)
– Overall winner, Azerbaijan Tour (2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010)
– Overall winner, International Presidency Turkey Tour (2002, 2006)
– Overall winner, Tour de Taiwan (2003)
– National ITT Champion (2006)
– National Road Cycling Champion (2007, 2008)
– Overall winner, Tour of Milad du Nour (2006, 2007, 2011)
– Overall winner, Kerman Tour (2006, 2008)
– Overall winner, Tour of East Java (2006, 2008)
– Overall winner, Tour of Indonesia (2008)
– Overall winner, Tour of Singkarak (2009, 2010)
– Overall winner, Tour of Iran (2009)
– Overall winner, Tour de Filipinas (2013)
– UCI AsiaTour individual champion (2006 & 2009)
– 33 stage wins in the AsiaTour (since 2005)