Eligible to race again following a two-year suspension for EPO use, Iran’s Mirsamad Pourseyedi Golakhor returned to the peloton in time to participate in arguably the hardest event on the UCI AsiaTour. His star-studded Tabriz Petrochemical Team took control of the 2’002km race from the third stage, which he won, opening a lead which would not be overcome.
IMAGES: Mokhriz Aziz (UCI AsiaTour photographer) + Tour of Qinghai Lake 2013
Jacob Keough (United Healthcare Pro Cycling Team) did, however, overcome incumbent stage favourite Sacha Modolo who, somewhat unusually, finished off the podium in Lanzhou today. Keough brought to a close a six-stage procession for the yellow jersey that began in Qilian last Saturday.
As Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox’s Modolo began compiling the first of his six victories in the opening stage, Pourseyedi Golakhor (abbr. Samad Poor Seiedi) finished in an anonymous 99th position, not far behind his teammates – Ghader Mizbani (a multiple stage winner in this race, and three times 2nd overall), Mehdi Sohrabi (winner of the 2011 UCI AsiaTour individual ranking, famously recruited by ProTeam Lotto Belisol for his UCI points) Hossein Askari (multiple Iran ITT National Champion and 2010 Tour of Qinghai Lake overall winner), Saeid Safarzadeh, Amir Kolahdoz Hagh (10th on GC in this year’s 2.HC Tour de Langkawi), Alizera Asgharzadeh (5th on GC in this year’s 2.2 Tour de Singkarak). If Poor Seiedi’s team came to China seeking to win overall, their energy-saving day spent at the back of the peloton was perhaps the first element of a larger calculation.
Indeed, the following day’s 151-kilometre stage, which skyrocketed from 2’200m elevation to a Hors Category summit at 3’786m, informed all other teams what they could expect from TPT. First to jump away prior to the ascent was Sohrabi. Together with five others, the ex-ProTeam rider gained the better part of ten minutes on the field before the ascent bared its teeth and freezing rain started to fall. A shadow of his former self, Sohrabi suffered as, behind him, teammates Hossein Askari and Amir Kolahdoz Hagh had attacked the field and were rapidly closing in, with former TPT team member Rahim Ememi (RTS Racing Team) for company. 2012 Tour of Qinghai Lake KOM winner Hossein Alizadeh (Amore & Vita) was also present, creating a formidable Iranian presence at the head of the race. With TPT evidently aware of who the genuine overall contenders were, a small break was permitted to gain and hold a 45″ lead to the finish. As stage two’s winner David De La Fuente (Torku Sekerspor) pulled on his first ToQL yellow jersey, after almost four hours of cold and wet racing, five TPT riders were now within one minute of being able to take it.
Stage three would be the opening act in Poor Seidei’s solo performance, with the parcours almost entirely above 3’000 metres elevation for the next five days, including three stages in excess of 200 kilometres. Attacking the field after stage three’s first intermediate sprint, TPT’s road captain – with Kolahdoz Hagh again at this side – dropped his breakaway companions from Continental Team Astana and Atlas Personal – Jakroo, and launched into the 15-kilometre climb. Buffeted by strong crosswinds and rain, the duo nonetheless opened a 3’45” gap with 25km remaining. This quickly tumbled as the peloton chased, but disorganisation amongst the sprinter’s teams resulted in the pair finishing 52” ahead of the 38-strong group that split from the field, with the remaining 100 riders a further ten minutes in arrears. De La Fuente relinquished the lead to Poor Seidi and TPT’s gameplan was on track.
The peloton stayed mostly intact during Wednesday’s fourth stage – the race’s longest at 227km – relieving GC contenders as the emphasis shifted to the short-termism of stage wins. Modolo easily beat Lampre-Merida’s Maximiliano Richeze in a bunch sprint, continuing a fortnight-long sequence which Richeze would never reverse. Even now, the general classification remained open with less than two minutes separating the top 30. Crucially, Poor Seidi, Kolahdoz Hagh, Askari and Mizbani were all partitioned in this elite group, having all rolled through behind Modolo.
A bizarre fifth stage briefly delayed Modolo’s next stage win, with an early breakaway – containing eventual winner Oleksander Polivoda (Atlas Personal – Jakroo) – the ultimate beneficiary of an ill-conceived standstill by the peloton. Dogged as it was by bad weather, a request by some riders for the stage’s neutralization was declined and the chase to catch Polivoda’s four-man break – which had continued as discussion behind was ongoing – was, perhaps predictably, unsuccessful. The following day was not one for pure sprinters, nor was it challenging enough for pure climbers to justify any meaningful exertion. Instead, Poor Seidi stayed close to stage-winner Robert Förster (United Healthcare Pro Cycling), as did compatriots Hossein Alizadeh (Amore & Vita) and Amir Zargari (RTS Racing Team); all three would go on to finish within the top 10 on final general classification.
The next turning point of the race came in stage 7; an hour-long criterium with an Hors Categorie climb bolted on, for a total of 82 kilometres. Continental Team Astana’s Yevgeniy Nepomnyachshiy – beginning the day in 13th position on GC, 1’05” behind Poor Seidi – propelled himself to victory on the 4’117m summit. In doing so, the Kazakh rider jumped into 2nd on GC, with teammate Daniil Fominykh (finishing 8th in the stage) also progressing from 5th to 3rd overall. It was an astonishing performance all-round by Kazakh and Iranian riders, with 14 of the 20 top finishers hailing from these two nations which, relative to their respective populations, remain disproportionately-dominant at AsiaTour events. Poor Seidi conceded 9” to Nepomnyachshiy, but lifted his GC lead to 52”.
In very simple terms, this was where the race was won.
As the parcours returned to richly-oxygenated air, the Modolo Show rolled on; only La Pomme Marseille’s Benjamin Giraud offered a brief respite from the Italian’s predictable onslaught in stage 10. TPT stayed vigilant in the opening sequences of each remaining stage, but was also assured in the knowledge that at least three other teams – Lampre-Merida, United Healthcare Pro Cycling and Bardian Valvole – CSF Inox – had a vested interest in keeping the peloton intact for a bunch sprint. All the way until reaching Lanzhou, yellow-clad Poor Seidi – with the KOM and Best Asian Rider jerseys also sewn-up – played a perfect hand, never exerting energy needlessly and ending each stage surrounded by his ever-faithful teammates.
Individual General Classification (Yellow jersey): Mirsamad Pourseyedi Golakhor (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Points Classification (Green jersey): Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox)
Best Asian Rider Classification (Blue jersey): Mirsamad Pourseyedi Golakhor (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
King of the Mountains Classification (Polka Dot jersey): Mirsamad Pourseyedi Golakhor (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Teams General Classification: Tabriz Petrochemical Team
FULL RESULTS SHEET (PDF) HERE
STAGE 13 RESULTS
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION