GENTING HIGHLANDS, Malaysia (VN) — If the Tour de Langkawi goes as China’s Tour of Qinghai Lake did last year, a relative unknown with one of the longest names in cycling — Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour — will take the overall title ahead of some more familiar faces.
If so, the victory is not likely to go unquestioned by those who say third-division teams enjoy less scrutiny than their better-heeled competitors.
Local rider Mustafa Sayar won the Tour of Turkey last May, despite the presence of several top teams, only to test positive for EPO a couple of months later.
And Pourseyedigolakhour himself served a two-year suspension for EPO following the 2011 Tour of Iran before returning to win at Qinghai Lake.
On Sunday, the 28-year-old Iranian from Team Tabriz Petrochemical won the queen stage of the Tour de Langkawi — the 110.9km Genting Highlands stage — and now has the overall lead by eight seconds over Merhawi Kudus (MTN-Qhubeka) and 11 over Isaac Bolivar (UnitedHealthcare).
Critics charge that third-division riders like Pourseyedigolakhour and Sayar cannot be trusted because they fly under the biological passport’s radar. Currently, the UCI only tests first- and second-division teams.
But Pourseyedigolakhour credits his performance to living at altitude, saying he and his teammates benefit from being based in Tabriz, in northern Iran.
“Lampre, Bardiani and the other team riders are human too,” Pourseyedigolakhour told VeloNews. “They are strong on the flats, go well at sea level, but the climbs in Qinghai Lake are different than in Malaysia or in Europe. The altitude is very difficult to deal with. That’s why the Iranians were stronger than the professional riders there.
“The Qinghai Lake tour averages at 3000 meters and our city sits at 1500. Qinghai is difficult for the Europeans because they struggle to breathe.”
Pourseyedigolakhour said on Saturday that would not be likely to surprise in Langkawi as he did in Qinghai. Freezing weather in northern Iran has forced his team to train on rollers and travel 1600km south to Busher to ride in warmer conditions, he said.
“There are many strong climbers on the Pro Continental or WorldTour teams here in Langkawi. They are stronger than we are,” he said. “I finished 19th in 2011, third place on the Genting Highlands stage. It was my only other time in the Tour de Langkawi. I’m not 100 percent fit and ready this time.”
However, he rode to the victory and into the overall lead on Sunday’s 15km climb to Genting Highlands, 1600 meters above Kuala Lumpur. Kudus placed second with Bolivar third, and with six mostly flat stages left it seems likely that the victor has already been decided.
Pourseyedigolakhour hopes his results will give him a chance to race for a first-division team, as did countrymen Mehdi Sohrabi (with Lotto-Belisol) and Amir Zargari (with Ag2r-La Mondiale).
“It’s difficult, but I want to do it,” he said. “The biggest problem is political because of my nationality. All the Iranians face that same problem: politics.”