For some time now the Iranian Tabriz Petrochemical Team (TPT) has been the dominant force in Asian bike racing, winning countless UCI Asia Tour races since their inception back in 2007. Even before that, its current roster of riders was already dominating races in the region, mainly as part of the Giant Asia Racing Team. But now there is a new Iranian powerhouse on the block – the Azad University Team.
The Azad Continental team has been around for a few years, and has had its fair share of success. However, it has mostly been recognised as a track-rooted team with strong sprinters, who were able to spring the odd GC result when TPT weren’t around. But in the past few weeks they’ve turned the tables some on their more illustrious counterparts and taken some amazing results.
The Asian season is more or less year-round, scheduled around the varying climatic conditions throughout the region. TPT have been on top of the 2010-11 UCI Asia Tour standings more or less right through, largely thanks to Mehdi Sohrabi, who leads the rankings in the Tour and also still holds the top slot for the most UCI wins of the year to date (12 in all, 1 more than Philippe Gilbert).
Last month, the Asia Tour moved to Iran for two of the country’s three counting rounds; the Tour of Azarbaijan and the Presidency Tour (the third being the Kermen Tour, won by Sohrabi in February). The first of the double whammy is based in the northern homeland of the TPT team (Tabriz).
The strongest ever line-up for the race shed some long awaited international light on the event, where the powerful Miche team of Davide Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher had been expected to excel, and they did – right up until TPT put the hammer down in the team time trial.
The final outcome in the windswept and hilly race was a sweep of the top three overall for TPT, with Sohrabi leading the way.
Just a few days later, the Asia Tour moved south to the mountains surrounding Tehran for the Presidency Tour (but without Miche), where the 3000-meter climbs were once again expected to fall to TPT. But things didn’t pan out that way, and apart from interventions from the Colombian veterans and brothers Miguel and Libardo Nino, the Azad team dominated the race, although Sohrabi did take a stage.
The seemingly extreme turn in form continued a couple of weeks ago in the Tour of Singkarak in Indonesia, where TPT were conspicuous by their absence. Once again Azad obliterated the field, with Amir Zargari leading the team to a clean sweep of the GC podium.
Next stop for the Asia Tour is the Tour of Qinghai Lake, one of the highest and toughest races on the UCI calendar, where altitudes rarely dip below 1800-meters. The past two editions of the race have been won by TPT, who are expected to have defending champion Hossein Askari on their roster again this year.
This year’s Qinghai race has lured several Pro-Conti teams, including; United Healthcare, TT1, Andalucia Caja Granada, CCC Polstat, Colnago-CSF and Caja Rural. Rosters have yet to be finalised, but on current form the two Iranian teams will be a hard act to beat.
Other teams for Qinghai are: TPT, Azad University, Giant-Kenda, Champion System, Perutnina, Amore & Vita, Loborika Favorit, V Australia, Marco Polo, Max Success, Qinghai, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Hong Kong.