Known as the ‘International Azerbaijan Tour’ until last year, this hard-man’s race, held in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, enters its 28th year with the new ‘Tour of Iran’ label. Local riders have been victorious in 19 of those 27 editions held to date, and they will be looking to re-claim the title after Spaniard Javier Ramirez’s narrow win in 2012.
TOUR OF IRAN BACKGROUNDER
Firstly, if you’re still confused about the ‘Azerbaijan’ part of that intro, please refer to last year’s preview, as the name ‘Azerbaijan Tour’ can now be construed as belonging to two different races (see second paragraph). In summary though, the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan lies at the northwest of Iran, bordering the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Whereas Iran is affiliated to the Asian Cycling Confederation, the Azerbaijan National Cycling Federation is affiliated to the European Cycling Confederation.
As most people will now be aware, a ‘Tour de Azerbaijan‘ appeared on the UCI EuropeTour (ranked 2.2) earlier this month. In 2012, the Azerbaijan Cycling Federation registered a U23 UCI EuropeTour stage race under the name ‘Haydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour’ (founder of the Republic of Azerbaijan and father of current President Ilham Aliyev) which – in retrospect given that race no longer exists – could be viewed as an experimental platform which launched this year’s Tour de Azerbaijan.
According to Cycling iQ’s sources, the Azerbaijan Federation lobbied the UCI hard in mid-2012 to reclaim the name ‘Azerbaijan’ for their new race. Though Iran’s Azerbaijan Tour and Azerbaijan’s tour of a similar name would be on separate Continental calendars (see above), Iran’s Cycling Federation was alledgedly asked to find another name. This certainly would have been a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the 2009 and 2010 editions of Iran’s International Azerbaijan Tour ventured into the Republic of Azerbaijan as a coming-together of the two countries through the spirit of sport.
Temperatures would commonly range between 10-30°C at this time of year, with altitude also tempering the maximums as the week progresses. The forecast for the race start in Tabriz is for rain and a high of 22°C.
Take a glance at the profiles below; these are not small climbs, nor are they short stages. Combine this with the reputation of Iranian riders as bullet-proof machines with almost unlimited capacity for suffering and the fact that, in the last few years that the race has been won by a local, the attrition rate – the number of riders who started the race but failed to finish – has been anywhere between 15-40%. Not for the faint-hearted.
Teams must have a minimum of four, and maximum of six, riders and four officials. 19 teams are on the start list this year, and all of them are fielding five pro’s apiece. In global terms, Tour of Iran casts a small net; all participating teams are registered with federations in Europe or Asia, which means three out of five UCI continents – The Americas, Africa and Oceania – will be absent (at least in terms of registered teams) from the peloton.
Choi Ki Ho from the Hong Kong National Team – which, incidentally, is being managed by the legendary Wong Kam Po, who announced his retirement in March this year – is certain to be a GC contender. Tabriz Petrochemical Team is taking no chances with a “super team” that includes Ghader Mizbani, Hossein Askari, Mehdi Sohrabi and rising star Amir Kolahdozhagh. Uzbekistan’s team also packs a punch with Muradjan Halmuratov, the reigning dual Asian Cycling Champion in Road and ITT who, oddly for such a credentialed rider, doesn’t hold a pro contract. Perhaps, like Wong, his national federation simply considers him too precious to let go and is therefore paying him enough to stay put. We’ll never know whether Torku Sekerspor’s veteran Kazakh Andrey Mizurov would re-discover his form of old, as the team was struck of the list of entrants in the last few days. In any case, it’s a peloton packed full of possibilities.
Four jerseys will be awarded at the conclusion of each stage:
Leader of General Classification – Gold
Leader of Points Classification – Green
Leader of King of the Mountains (KOM) Classification – Red
Leader of Best Asian Rider Classification – White
The total prize pool is EUR50,000 (USD64,000). Over half this amount is allocated to stage place-getters 1 through 20 receive who will receive anywhere from EUR30 to EUR2,000, respectively. Here’s the breakdown of what classification winners will take home (though technically, it is still taxable income):
Overall winner (individual) = EUR6,000 (USD7,680)
Overall team = EUR3,200 (USD4,100)
Overall team (Asian) = EUR1,400 (USD1,800)
Overall KOM = EUR1,400 (USD1,800)
Overall Points = EUR1,400 (USD1,800)
Stage winner = EUR2,000 (USD2,560)
Official website? Check. Twitter and Facebook? Regrettably not; but don’t let that stop you from visiting the Cycling Federation of Iran’s website for updates – CFI is notably more active than many of its online counterparts – as well as the various media used by teams such as CCN – Metalac, Azad University Giant, Tabriz Petrochemical Team (website also here) and the like. Cycling iQ will be receiving daily stage results and will endeavour to get them up on Twitter asap.
RESULTS (Links to PDF of each day’s official results sheet for stage and GC)
Stage 1 results and GC
Stage 2 results and GC
Stage 3 results and GC
Stage 4 results and GC
Stage 5 results and GC
Stage 6 results and GC
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Tabriz – Maraghe 128.1km
Wednesday, 22 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 2 | Maraghe – Urmia 194.1km
Thursday, 23 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 3 | Urmia – Khoy 122km
Friday, 24 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 4 | Khoy – Aras Free Zone 152.2km
Saturday, 25 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 5 | Aras Free Zone – Sahand 191.2km
Sunday, 26 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 6 | Tabriz criterium 101.9km
Monday, 27 May 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)