By Shane Stokes
Last year Iran made the headlines immediately prior to the start of the FBD Insurance Rás, but it was for all the wrong reasons. A group of individuals posing as the national team travelled to Ireland but then went missing, their visa application for the race enabling the scam to be committed.
This time round, race organiser Dermot Dignam has confirmed that a bona fide Iranian selection will line out in the 2.2-ranked event, with five good international riders competing for the UCI Continental Azad University cycling team.
"It's probably true to say we were a little annoyed with ourselves for been taken in by the scammers last year," said Dignam this week. "We felt we had to make amends by having a legitimate team in this year's race. We appreciate the assistance received from the Iranian Embassy and are absolutely delighted with the quality of the team selected to come to Ireland."
Amir Zargari, Abbas Saeiditanha, Mehdi Sohrabi, Hassan Maleki Mizan and Mehdi Faridi will line out for the Continental-level Iran Azad University team, and have enough individual and collective strength to make a big impression on the race.
Mehdi Sohrabi is on paper the strongest rider on the team. The 26 year-old won the Asian Games road race in 2006 and has also taken the Iranian national road race and time trial titles. Last season he won the overall classification in the Jelajah Malaysia, three stages in the Tour of Milad du Nour, two stages in Kerman Tour and one apiece in the Tour of East Java and the Tour de Hokkaido.
Amir Zargari has won stages in the Tour of Milad du Nour, the Tour of Azerbaijan, the Tour of East Java and the Kerman Tour. Team-mate Abbas Saeiditanha has also landed a stage of the Tour of Azerbaijan and, like Zargari, has taken silver and bronze track medals in the Asian Games.
Hassan Maleki Mizan was second on a stage of the prestigious Tour de Langkawi this season and in the past has won a stage in the Kerman Tour plus two stages of the Tour of Egypt. The fifth member of the team, Mehdi Faridi, was bronze medallist in last year's Iranian road race championships. They will all travel prior to the FBD Insurance Rás start in Navan on May 18 .