By Shane Stokes
With two weeks to go before the start of the FBD Insurance Rás, it has been confirmed that an Iranian national team will line out for the first time ever in the Irish race.
"We are absolutely delighted with the news that Iran has chosen the FBD Insurance Rás as one of its target events for this year," said race organiser Dermot Dignam this week. "It’s a huge tribute to the event and a sign of the growing popularity of the race throughout the world."
The Iranian team will be made up of riders Mahdi Fathi, Mohammad Rastad, Amir Shakeri, Mobin Bagherzadegan and Mahmoud Talei.
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, is expecting a good showing.
"This is a good time for our team and its riders to take part in the race. We hope we can have a good performance this year. We are aiming to finish in the top 10 on several stages, as well as reaching the podium on one of them."
The team’s visas have been approved and are expected to be issued shortly by the Irish Embassy in Teheran.
In addition to the Asian national team, Continental squads have been confirmed from the USA, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Denmark, Germany and Australia. More international teams are expected to be announced in the next fortnight.
The 2.2 ranked FBD Insurance Rás will get underway on Sunday May 20th with a 157 kilometre stage from Naas to Templemore. The riders will cover almost 1200 kilometres en route to the finish in Skerries on May 27th, with additional stage ends in Loughrea, Sligo, Dungloe, Buncrana, Derry and Newcastle. Last year's race was won by Kristian House of the Recycling.co.uk team. He finished on the same overall time as former world under 23 TT champ Danny Pate, making it the closest finish in the event's long history.