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Thumbs up from new race leader Mehdi Sohrabi (Tabriz Petrochemical Team)
Iranian pleased to line up in WorldTour
Mehdi Sohrabi’s UCI points were crucial in securing WorldTour status for his new Lotto-Belisol squad, but the Iranian has acknowledged that there are pros and cons to the points system that saw him become one of the most valuable commodities on the transfer market this winter.
As UCI Asia Tour winner for the past two seasons, the Iranian had built up a significant tally of points, and Ag2r-La Mondiale, Geox-TMC and Lotto were all vying for his signature in order to secure their berths in cycling’s top tier in 2012.
“Winning an HC race in Asia gives you the same number of points as in Europe. I find that’s a bad idea as they’re very different,” Sohrabi told Velochrono. “In the space of the past two seasons, I finished on the podium 46 times and won 26 races. That gave me 793 points in the Asia Tour. Converted into UCI points, that makes 80 points [the equivalent of either four Tour de France stage victories, a seventh overall placing at the Tour or winning Flèche Wallonne - ed.].”
Nonetheless, Sohrabi believes that the great benefit of the current system is that it gives riders who develop outside of cycling’s traditional heartlands the opportunity to earn a place on a top-flight team.
“In spite of everything, I think that it’s a good system, because it gives the riders from smaller nations the chance to compete with the best, at the highest level,” he said. “Furthermore, it gives cycling the chance to have greater visibility on different continents and in different countries.”
Long linked with a move to Ag2r or Geox, Sohrabi ultimately opted for Lotto-Belisol, after contact was made through bike supplier Ridley who also sponsored his Tabriz Petrochemical squad.
“I think I’ve always had a good understanding with Belgian riders,” Sohrabi said about his final choice of team. “I’ve met Eddy Merckx many times and he’s a real gentleman. I’ve also ridden the Tour of Qatar, when Tom Boonen used to win everything. He was very friendly and approachable. I trained with Eric Vanderarden in Iran before the Olympics too, and he always said that I was built for the cobbled classics.”
In spite of his admiration for Belgian cycling, however, Sohrabi is most enthusiastic about linking up with a German rider at his new squad, André Greipel. “In 2010, he won more races than anybody else in the world and he sacrificed himself in a lot of races for the benefit of the team and helped others to win,” Sohrabi said. “I can’t wait to meet him.”
After competing in the track World Cup in Astana recently in a bid to secure Iran’s place in omnium at the London 2012 Olympics, Sohrabi is now firmly focused on his debut campaign in the WorldTour.
“I want to install myself as a valued member of my team and do my best for it,” he said. “At the end of the season, if my team is happy with my performance overall, I can say that I have fulfilled my objectives.”
Fittingly for a recruit to Belgium’s newest team, Sohrabi is particularly keen to take part in one race above all others. “I think most riders dream of riding the Tour de France, but me, I’d also love to start the Tour of Flanders.”