TOUR OF AZARBAIJAN, IRAN 11-16 May 2012

Im freshly back in KL after a 3rd time to the Tour of Azar in Iran.  I love going there!! NO, I never feel unsafe, NO theyre not unfriendly people, NO we didn’t see any signs of unrest, NO no signs of hating the west… seriously, it’s a trip! Iranians are some of the nicest folk Ive ever met!  Really! Collectively – theyre so warm, friendly, interested and theres a MASS of Iranians that speak English.  The start list this year was:

Tabriz Petrochemical – IRAN

Syria National – SYRIA

ASC Dukla Praha – CZECH REPUBLIC

Konya Torku – TURKEY

OCBC – SINGAPORE

Start – PARAGUAY

Bavaria Regional – GERMANY

Urumia Medical Uni – IRAN

Astana Track Team – KAZAKHSTAN

Team Plan B – AUSTRALIA (who I was soigneur with)

Andalucia – SPAIN

Azad University – IRAN

ISD Lampre – UKRAINE

MES Kerman – IRAN

Specialized – GERMANY

Uzbekistan Suren – UZBEKISTAN

Holland Regional – HOLLAND

Ardebil – IRAN

Briaspor – TURKEY

Flying to Tehran from KL is great – cheap (airasia.com), frequent and only 7.5 hours.  We arrived at 10pm local, and this year, we were taken pretty much straight away, to the bus depot (thank god I had friends who met us – me and the six riders, as their car was needed to take two of us to the bus depot) – and that was it, left at midnite, bound for Tabriz in Irans northern ‘Azarbaijan’.

We were at Sharyar Hotel this year – and I pretty much headed straight to bed – via catching up with some familiar faces.  As I expected, I got a phone call about 2 hours into my sleep telling me I needed to be at the licence control… umm NO im not manager this year!  However, I was awake, so I got up and got the licences.  Went downstairs and met our manager and mechanic – Yves and Angels, frenchies and absolutely top guys! I did go to licence control (and got reimbursed from TPT for the power bars I took them – for those rumour-mongering that I wouldn’t get repaid…)  I flagged the managers meeting for more rest.. met our interpreter – Golamreza. A dude and with really really good English!

Stage 1 Tabriz to Urumiyeh, 141km.  stages started at 10am.  And, were accompanied by the ever-present Azar trait.. WIND!  I remember this road from other years, especially the bridge we crossed.  This year, I was in the team van, as opposed to the team car, so out the back of the race. The plan was, (as per usual) the vans would go ahead of the race, but, we didn’t leave so early before the start and got so stuck in traffic, that was not  going to happen.   I remember Urumiyeh as well – the city of Kurds!  Same hotel as last year, same view from my room of the bazaar over the road.. I like this hotel!  After dinner, Reza went for a walk with us into the town. The bazaar wasn’t open ,but the streets provided enough entertainment – between me and my different dress / hijab styles and blonde aussie boys, we were definitely worth staring at! Bought some walnuts!

Stage 2, Urumiyeh – Shabestar (then transfer to Tabriz back to same hotel) 174km

I woke up paying the price of the long travel time getting to Iran and then Tabriz – a migraine L  loaded up on pain killers and decided to have something to eat.  Bread, cream and honey.  For someone that doesn’t usually eat bread, Iranian bread was dam fine!! And it made me feel a lot better!  I spent the stage lying down in the back of the van trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, it was a few hours of waiting at the finish line before the transfer to the hotel.. ugh!  Early night, no massages given, just crashed out and slept right through to a new day..

Stage 3 – Tabriz – Miyaneh, 155km

Felt heaps better today, yay!! And the finish was close to the hotel.. actually, it wasn’t a hotel, it was a branch of Azad University!  And the accomm was pretty sweet – a 3 room in an apartment!  Bit of a fuss when I turned up – about 5 men took on the duty of getting one of the rooms into a one bed, so that I wasn’t sharing with males.  (also gave me room to do massages in my room).  Didn’t  go to dinner tonight, wasn’t hungry, chilled out instead..

Stage 4, Garachaman – Ardebil, 194.7, (transfer after to Sarein)

Not too much to see on the drive, but I did get flashbacks of the road nearer the hotel! Parts of the course that was a team time trial last year.  I liked this hotel, ‘Laleh’ and got a bit of a heroes welcome cos they remember me!  Time to chill for a bit before the boys arrived.   Unfortunately, I sent the driver and interpreter off to drive back to the finish (25km) and they never got there on time, stuck in traffic.. oh well, got it sorted.  Lunch and dinner were nice, and after dinner lots of race people were chilling out on the lobby furniture, wifi-ing, drinking tea…

Stage 5, Sarein – Sahand (3000m) 188km

Left on this stage with no realisation just what the 30km hill climb entailed! Bit of a murky, misty foggy day, and as we started the hill climb, there were parts where we thought we were on the wrong road – narrow, rough, dirty road.. but no, it was the way.  Nearer the top of the climb, it was snowing!! And at the summit, was a ski field and ski lodge – warm tea and toilets for us swannies and van drivers to use and hang out in, for around 3 hours.  For the finish, we all went back to the finish line. The snow had stopped but the wind was freezing!  I did think about putting my compression socks on (best thing for when youre wearing birkenstoks and thai fisherman pants!) but I didn’t.  the finish was exciting, Andalucia, easily.. but later riders were coming in absolutely buckled!! There were ‘helpers’ (interpreters, swannies etc) helping riders when they got to the line –someone would go either side and push the riders up to their team vans. When my first  guy came in, I stepped up to help and as I went to start fast walking him up the hill something in my right calf gave out and that was it, I couldn’t walk anywhere!! It felt like a huge electric shock!  So, I hopped up the hill with the help of one of the interpreters.  The race doctor saw me – ice gel and bandage and a promise to see me later at the hotel.  I think it was a micro tear of calf muscle, and it was my first introduction to ‘kinesio tape’ which blew me away! Il never pooh poo it again!!! We were back in Tabriz for the night..

Stage 6, Tabriz – Tabriz, 75km.

So, I didn’t go to this stage – I opted for a trip into town with the OCBC guys (even though I was limping).  It was fun going out – the bazaar in Tabriz. The oldest and most famous from the silk route – and though Ive seen it before it was great to go again.  And unlike other years, this year, we were not put on a bus straight after the tour to do an overnight trip to Tehran, SCORE!

Next day, we got the bus for Tehran.  There was our team, Singapore and some journos.  We were leaving at 8am, just after 9am we were pulling out from the hotel.  12 hours later, we were at the airport dropping off everyone except the riders from my team and me.  And then I got a phone call from a friend – we were not booked into Azadi stadium.. ARGGH! However, some phone calling and we  got accommodation at ‘Bostan Hotel’ which is near Azadi and was one of the race hotels for tour of Tehran last year.

So it ended up I had one full day in Iran and then most of the second day.  Got to spend time with two very special friends.. happy! Only wish id stayed longer in Iran and that the Tour of Tehran had been on.

The flight home was almost empty, SCORE!  Took a herbal sleeper though and got some sleep..

Thanks Iran, you rock, and next year, I have a plan to get me looking more like a local. I will win the hijab battle!!

OH! AND I CANT sign off without mentioning Iranian food… i miss it already.  Cream, full fat yogurt, olives, nuts, chicken and LAMB!!! i miss the lamb, its all i want when im there! There is a distinct lack of obesity in Iran – compared with the West, and I reckon its the quality protein and saturate fats, for sure!  Half the amount of processed crap compared to say Malaysia.  Interesting..  AND Iranian pharmacies.. wow, theyre amazing. if you want it, i think you can buy it, whatever ‘it’ may be. For me, Diclofinac suppositories (for migraines) up to 100mg, and less than $2 for two boxes (ten suppositories) – sure as heck beats a doctors appointment, a prescription and only 50mg dosages in New Zealand!

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