Sohrabi grateful for year with Lotto Belisol

It may have seemed like another blow to the convoluted UCI points system but one-time WorldTour rider Mehdi Sohrabi has only good things to say about his one-year contract with one of the world's top-ranked teams, Lotto Belisol. His time in the big league may have been short-lived but the 31-year-old is appreciative for the opportunities of 2012. For this season however, he has come back to Tabriz Petrochemical Team – the 'home' squad for the Iranian-based rouleur.

"For me, the year with Lotto was very good," he told Cyclingnews. "At Lotto all the riders are of very high level, the organisation, everything was very good. One year at WorldTour with Lotto was great. But there is a big difference between Lotto and TPT."

The 2011 Asia Tour champion was picked up by Lotto Belisol for his haul of UCI points and helped the ProTeam to remain in the top-tier for the 2012 season. It was likely that a more experienced European professional missed out on a contract but with UCI and WorldTour points carrying such high value, Sohrabi's biggest asset was what he had already achieved and not necessarily of what he could bring to the coming season.

Sohrabi came out with a promising showing at the early season Tour of Qatar in 2012 however, the results he was accustomed to achieving in Asia never materialised. He rode in some of the biggest races in the calendar including Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Suisse and Tour of Beijing but he was never in contention for victory.

Part of this comes down to the vast cultural differences between his familiar Iranian home and former Tabriz Petrochemical Team and that of the his new surrounds in Europe. Such an extreme change in "everything" meant he struggled for the first part of the year before really feeling like he was starting to feel comfortable in his environment.

"I just had too many problems; spending too long in Europe, no friends or Iranian riders in Europe and so after the races I was always alone," he explained.

"This was a big problem. In the races it's not an issue but the first four-five months were very difficult.

It wasn't just the culture shock that Sohrabi had to deal with but the racing itself was a world away from the Asian scene.

"Different roads, riders, weather, everything. After five months it was fine. I was used to the roads and riders so it wasn't really a problem anymore. In European races there are 200 riders who start and 200 of them are good. In an Asia race there's 120 riders and maybe maximum 50 of them are very strong.

"Asian races also use very big roads so there is plenty of space to move and attack. In Belgium it's all these small roads going left, right, left, cobblestones. It's all very different."

Coming back to the team he spent 2009 through till the end of 2011 makes sense for Sohrabi who's contract with Lotto was not renewed at the end of last season. He isn't bitter about stepping down and if anything, says the year raced over in Europe has changed him as a rider. With Le Tour de Langkawi being his first race of the year he says that while lacking condition to be competitive, his team will certainly look for their chances.

"My level has changed a lot of after one year at the WorldTour. It has come up a lot since Lotto. I also now understand many other things about racing having learned different tactics from Asian and European races. It's 100 percent different.

"This is the first race for me and the team also. It's cold and snowing in Iran now so it's not good for training but there's probably three riders on our team who are still good climbers. We will try for a good result but I think being the first race will be hard.

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