By Shane Stokes
The FBD Insurance Rás cycling race will start on Sunday minus one team, following the news that what was believed to be an Iranian national selection has gone missing.
Following months of negotiations between the race organiser Dermot Dignam and what appeared to be a legitimate vice-president of the Iranian national cycling federation, visas were granted for five riders and four team officials to travel to the race, marking the first ever entry from the Middle Eastern country.
The first indication that something was amiss was when four of the group arrived a week earlier than scheduled. Dignam arranged for them to check in early to the official pre-race accommodation venue, but they failed to show up. Two more from the group then flew into Dublin airport on Thursday but were refused entry to the country.
Mahdi Fathi, Mohammad Rastad, Amir Shakeri, Mobin Bagherzadegan and Mahmoud Talei had been entered as the riders for the race. Dignam had believed he was in negotiations with Ali Zangi Abadi, double bronze medallist in the 1982 Asian games and current vice president of the Cycling Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it now seems possible that the person concerned was posing as the former international rider.
"Following discussions with the Iranian Embassy and immigration officials we immediately cancelled arrangements for the team's participation in the FBD Rás," said Dignam on Friday, confirming that the squad was bogus. It is believed that the four individuals are still at large.
Meanwhile, teams from the USA, Germany, Estonia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands have arrived for the eight-day race, 2.2 ranked race, which gets underway with a 157 kilometre stage from Naas to Templemore. They will line out against some of Ireland's best riders, including a strong Subway Eat Fresh Irish national selection.
The riders will cover almost 1200 kilometres as they travel anti-clockwise around the country, taking in additional stage finishes at Loughrea, Sligo, Dungloe, Buncrana, Derry, Newcastle and Skerries.