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Cyclists CK BB racing in Iran

Four members of CT BB (Cycling Team Banská Bystrica) - coach Peter Kán and racers Fraňo, Haring and Viglaský accompanied by Zima and Stančík participated as members of cyclo-cross national selection team in a UCI 2.2 race in Iran, Milad du Noir Tour held on July 7.– 11. in Iran..

After our arrival to Teheran we were greeted by a welcoming committee, we got our visa arranged right at the airport what took no longer than 20 minutes. We then moved to the Teheran's Olympic Sports Centre where we were accommodated in newly reconstructed interiors of a velodrome. The whole complex is huge, comprises several square kilometres of sports grounds of all kinds, such as a really nice velodrome, national football stadium, training football stadiums, various sports halls, field hockey stadium, modern shooting range, swimming pool and an artificial water canal for canoeing disciplines. National teams of Iran train in this compex, to my great surprise, also including womens teams.

 Azad sport complex

As Iran is a strictly islamic country, one can walk in the street only if dressed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts, what can be quite exhausting in 43°C high temperatures. There are some exemptions for sporting men, they are allowed short pants on the sports ground. For women no exemption though, they need to be dressed head to toes: longs pants, long-sleeved shirts plus  their head covered. To our big surprise, women didn't follow this strict dress code only in civil life but also when playing football or paddled their cayak for example.


Azad training centre in Teheran 

Female cyclists have to wear leg-warmers and arm-warmers and have their hair covered even under their helmet in spite of the 40 degrees heat.


Iranian female cyclist

I can't even imagine being dressed like that,  as we suffered in the 40°C temperature wearing shorts and short jersey during our first training in Teheran.

The road infrastructure is very interesting in Iran. Country has very few normal roads but many highways on the contrary. Two-lane roads connect the whole country and even small towns – such road infrastructure is not that great for a training ride on a bike, since we basically got to train only on highways with busy traffic.

Our Team Director joked about strict muslim rules concerning the dress code, but soon was asked by a velodrome supervisor to change his shorts for long pants. He obeyed and so did the rest of us and we all were wearing long pants as we headed out for dinner. The food was very traditional indeed, only fresh ingredients are being used like fresh meat, rice, salad, home-made yoghurt, no artificially processed food.

There was one speciality in the food served though - a carrot jam and a jam made of rose petals. We came accross these flavors also during the following days in luxurious hotel in Arak. Another speciality was an onion yoghurt - yoghurt consisting of onion juice and freshly chopped onion.

Our transport to Arak, a city with half a million inhabitants, was scheduled one day prior to the race itself.  The transport was all right, took 3 hours by an air conditioned bus. We were taken to a local wellknown restaurant for dinner right after our arrival. Marian was wearing shorts and looked completelly all right with it as noone had stopped him at the hotel. He smiled no more though when we got to the restaurant. There was a big party going on and he attracted everyone's attention as he was the only guest out of around 100 people in the restaurant wearing short pants. Only few people were wearing short sleeves. Everyone stared at us as we walked in, with Marian of course being  the person of everyone's interest. We ate our dinner and left the restaurant as quickly as possible. Invited teams from Irak and Syria were accommodated in a sports centre in downtown Arak, they accommodated only us and Georgians into the only five-star hotel in town – well, it wouldn’t get five stars nowhere in Europe. We were surprised by being accommodated in the most luxurious hotel in town though.

Hotel Amirkabir 5stars

 

Staying in a five-star hotel, is not always an advantage. As I don´t want to sweat in my jeans, i wear light muslim pants from Africa. I get stopped immediately by the hotel manager who asks me how do I dare to walk through hotel lobby in that kind of clothes. I said, I would change my pants, but when he also asks me to put normal shoes on instead of flip flops and put on a suit, I burst into laugh. He was deadly serious and couldn’t even understand how I could arrive from Europe without a suit and wearing my flip flops. After a while Jozef joins me – he rides his bicycle into the hotel lobby, wearing hotel flip flops and swiming suit. Hotel manager is completely desperate. He almost gets a heart attack when he sees him and wants to speak to my director. He is totally helples when I tell him he can talk to me as I am the responsible for our team. He later ceases some of his demands and insists on wearing long pants as a compromise. He seems to be quite satisfied when I pass by him at the dinner time in long jeans and shot polo shirt with my flip-flops on.

 

         

First stage of the race is in the streets of Arak. The circuit is 4km long. We do 12 laps, it’s something like a prologue. Despite the average speed of about  40km/h, Jozef and Martin Haring are full of energy and are very active throughout the race. Iranians have a rather weak technique of riding, so we gain big  advantage in all the curves. Small groups try to escape during the 1 hour long race, but the peloton stayes together until the very last lap. With the finish line approaching, everyone starts to sprint. Despite being settled in a perfect 6th position about 1km to the finish, I get slowed down in the last curve by a racer in front of me and I can only be happy with my 19th position in the slight uphill finish. I couldn’t have done much more in the finish with the speed attacking 60km. Others finish in the bunch in the 50th position or so. I feel good and am looking forward to the second stage.

 

Second stage is 114km long and includes 4 hills and one 12km mountain pass at an altitude of 2.450m. Average speed of the race is set at almost 50km/h right from the start – we ride on a wide road so the tempo is fine. We can see the first hill from a distance. All hills look easy and not very steep as the roads lead always straight with no zig-zags. The several-lane highway gives a wrong impression of the real ascent as we soon found out. Peloton is torn into pieces in the very first climb.  To be honest, the supposed hill is in reality a small mountain and I’m grateful for my 39/25 gear. In the descent, we ride at 90km/h despite being in a very small group. All of us –except for Haring- reunite in some 15-people grupetto already on kilometre 40. He was strong enough to stay with the leading group. We ride fast in the grupetto, distance to the front of the race is small, we can still see the caravan ahead of us. I’m not enjoying this stage very much – it’s 39 degrees, very dry, hard to breathe and swallow. Short steep climbs meet short descents, there’s a strong wind 50km/h in the desert-like countryside. Everyone struggles for a little bit of wind protection.

 

Oh what a joy it is riding in hot wind in steep hills all day with a mountain pass awaiting us in the distance. Also the first group splits in the last climb, Haring comes with an 8 minutes loss at a 39th position, the rest of us somehow survive the climb and the final 15km long descent in the wind to the finish line with a final loss of 20 minutes.

We are awaited by our guards at the finish line – they drive us back to the hotel immediately. Stages always start early in the morning, so we get back to the hotel for lunch. After a short nap we look for an activity to do and places to visit. There are merry-go-rounds in the hotel neighbourhoods, reminds us of Disneyland. We sneak out of the hotel without the guards caring. It is all set in a park – it’s really crowded and many families are having a picnic. We see women are always accompanied by men but we do notice groups of young men. Their look and manners indicate many of them might be gay. Despite the beauty of some women, no man really seems to pay any attention to them, they seem to be treated only as objects for giving birth to children.

Jozef is getting ready to shoot with an air gun as someone all of a sudden pats us on our shoulders – it’s our security guards who somehow managed to find us in the crowd. We try to escape them, so we split in groups and even though they have walkie-talkies to talk to each other, we win this game. They seem to be tired and longing for some sleep. We later talk to them and even though their English is very poor, we got to learn they are supposed to guard us at all and any time and protect us from any incidents.

It’s late and we don´t really want to torture them any more so we return back to the hotel. We plan to sneak out again tomorrow to visit the old town and it’s market place – bazaar.

Race continues with the third stage. It’s a 11km long lap that we are to pass 12 times. There is a fake flat of about 2km with a steep 500m climb on the circuit – now that is something to worry about. We get dry wind and a temperature in the low fourties °C as usually. But we are getting used to the high altitude at last. Jozef has some technical problems with his wheel. UCI commisaire is strict, leaves a big gap between Jozef and the peloton, there’s no way he’s ever coming back to the bunch. Peloton is broken to pieces in the third lap. Me, along with Ivan and Marian and 15 others try our best not to be lapped by the leading group. Mission completed, we finish with a 15 minute loss. Haring is not that lucky, he drops out from our group and gets lapped along with Jozef and some other riders. We are happy to learn all lapped riders will be able to take start the following day – with a loss of 39 minutes calculated for todays’ stage. Besides us it’s also Georgians who seem to be having hard time getting used to the altitude and hot and dry weather. Except for their leader Nadiradze, all of them are already our of race or struggle each day for survival.

National futball stadium

As planned, we head to the bazaar later in the afternoon. We want to take a cab, but to our great surprise, a civilian pulls his car over and offers us a ride downtown. He makes some extra little money this way. Unfortunatally the majority of shops are closed in the Bazaar as it’s Friday, a Muslim holiday. Shops with perfumes and Chinese staff are open, traditional shops with carpets and embossed metal products are closed for today. So we get some perfumes and a home-made vegie burger instead. Owner of the small bistro is happy we stopped at his place. He doesn’t speak much English, so we speak Slovak, he sticks to his Persian and we all use our hands and legs as a communication tool. His friend drives us back to the hotel after our meal. Again, it’s not an official taxi, but this guy – David – gets a chance to make some extra pocket money. He keeps saying that people of Slovakia and Iran are friends. Our security guards were sleeping all the time we were gone, never even noticed us being gone; good for them – and for us. Later in the day we go to a ceremony held in honour of the race. We are having lots of fun listening to verses in Persian and watching a local Copperfield guy with bunch of old and mal-functioning reguisites. People in the first rows could see how all the ‘magic’ is done. Really, the level of the performance is good enough maybe for showing to students of elementary school. But everyone, including us, is having a great fun. We do appreciate the musicians who come on stage later on though, they seem to be professionals. We again question their hetero-sexual orientation as all of them blink their eye at Jozef.

Powerplant Arak 

Next race day there’s a 130km long hilly stage. Pace is already high but the side wind makes it even harder. Jozef tries to attack and go for the first intermediate sprint, but is outsprinted by sprinters in the peloton. Peloton splits about half-way through the stage in a long up-hill section with strong cross winds. Some 30 riders stay in front. Despite the efforts of our big chasing group, we never got back to front and we ended the stage with a 3 min. loss. This was a very peaceful stage and the easiest one so far. We return to the Bazaar later in the day to do some souvenir shopping. We buy nice Persian carpets, some metal bowls and on our way back to the hotel we stop for tasty roasted sheep liver.

Fastfood
        

There’s only one racing day ahead of us. It’s anything but an easy stage with the hilly road, but we do hope for a good tempo since the general classification seems to be unchangeable. The very opposite is true. From the beginning of the stage the pace never drops from 50km/h in flats. We they sprint at the first Mountain Prime at an average speed of 40km/h, me, Ivan and Jozef get dropped from the peloton and stay behind in a small group. We can still see the peloton at a distance and are decided to finish the stage. If the Japanese commisaire was more human, he would let the cars in the caravane overtake us and we could try to get back to the leading group. He is so severe even in case of a flat tyre of any other technical problem. He let’s the cars past only after several minutes what completely disables the riders to return to front, especially with the yellow-jersey Teheran team keeping the pace high in front. 20km to the finish we get stopped by the commisaire due to a 10minute distance from the leaders. It’s far from the specified time limit, but since this is the last stage, they decided to cut the limit even more due to heavy traffic in the city of Khomeyn. It’s a pity as it is really improbable we would not finish the stage and we get stopped only 20km to the finish line. But there’s nothing we could do about it. Marian and Haring are lucky to get to finish line in the peloton.

We pack our bikes right after the race and wait for the final ceremony at a local school. We are all seated at beautiful carpet in Ajjatoláh Khomeyn’s residence. Khomeyn is his birth town and people still admire him and respect him as a spiritual leader even after his death. Everything carries his name, including the international Teheran airport. We have the honour of visiting his house and spending some nice moments seated at carpets at one of his chambers during the final ceremony.

House of Ajjatoláh Khomejní

After being trasported back to Teheran, we spend our last night in the nice sports complex Azad. Our return flights to Frankfurt with a short stop in Dubai pass without any problems.

Overall standings and race results can be found here: race calendar 2010

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