AZERBAIJAN PROVINCE, Iran (VN) — Many may find it hard to imagine racing bikes in Iran, let alone even visiting the country due to what the media tells you.  Cycling in Iran, in fact, is very popular and this is evident in the number of top Iranian road and track cyclists that have been produced over the years. Iran has three UCI-ranked tours on its calendar, including the upcoming Presidents Tour of Iran on May 25.

2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher (MICHE-Guerciotti) prior to the 38km team time trial. Photo: Daniel Carruthers

The UCI-ranked 2.2 Azarbaijan Cycling Tour is in its 26th year and the 2011 edition featured the strongest field ever to assemble on Persian soil. Two big name riders, coming back from drug suspension, Stefan Schumacher and Davide Rebellin, took part, representing the Italian Miche-Guercci Cycling Team.

Other notable riders include former RadioShack rider Daryl Impey, who is riding for MTN-Quebeka before joining the Pro Continential Team NetApp later this mont. Bjorn Thurau, the son of the famous Dietrich Thurau, was at the Azerbaijan Tour representing Team NSP. And the formidable Tabriz-Petrochemical Cycling Team was present, including Mehdi Sohrabi, the leader of the UCI Asian Tour points standings.

Azerbaijan is located in the northwest of Iran. The altitude starts at around 1500m (5,000 feet) and the area contains many majestic snow-capped mountains and wide-open wind swept plains. Although it lacks the iconic old city sites of Central Iran, it makes up for it with is awe-inspiring scenry and the amazing hospitality of the locals. Also be prepared to eat like a Persian king when you come. There are plenty of lamb kebabs and delicious Persian rice.  Riders had plenty of fuel to race on!

Iranian riders could be a force to be reckoned with in the world of cycling, if they were given more opportunities to obtain visas for European and other races around the world. The Tabriz-Petrochemical Team took a clean sweep of the overall GC podium to show just how strong they are and keep up the Iranian winning streak at the Azerbaijan Tour for the past seven years.

2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Azerbaijan Province, North Iran, is full of majestic snow clad mountains and nice roads to ride on. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The two Colombian brothers that caused a sensation at the Langkawi Tour earlier this year. Libardo on the right took the polka dot jersey. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher and his Miche-Guerciotti teammates signing on for the last day. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan (2)
There are lots of small time farmers who graze their livelihood in different places each day. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher and his Miche-Guerciotti team-mates signing on for the last day. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Nathan Dahlberg (Plan B Australia) has raced in Asia for the past 10 years and continues to perform well for his age. He is rider-manager for the Aussie Plan B team. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Bjorn Thurau (NSP Team) signs in. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
More quiet roads to enjoy riding on in Iran. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The Tabriz-Petrochemical Cycling Team before the start of final stage. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Mehdi Sohrabi (TPT) leads the peloton during the epic 165km stage. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The jersey holders – from left, Alexey Lyalko, Miguel Nino Corredor, Mehdi Sohrabi and Hossein Askari. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Riders surge at the beginning of the 145km final stage. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Tobias Erler (Tabriz-Petrochemical) was a workhorse for his team and was a key contributor to their success. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Some head-butting going on from the Astana rider as they jostle for position in the crosswinds. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The crosswinds wrecked havoc in the peloton, causing many small groups to form during stage 1. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The breakaway just in front of the peloton, crossing the lake near Urmia. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
One of many echelons that formed during the epic stage one that passed through some beautiful scenery in Azarbaijan, North Iran. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
An early break of 12 riders contested the first intermediate sprint (average speed over 50km/h). Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The crosswinds made it difficult for riders to break free from the peloton that was speeding along at 50kph. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Iran is proud of its cycling heritage. The sport is ranked as the fifth most popular sport in the country. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The peloton speeds across the Urmia Lake causeway in pursuit of the breakaway. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher (MICHE-Guerciotti) is looking focused for his 38km team time trial. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Davide Rebellin (MICHE-Guercci) on his comeback path. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The Azarbaijan Tour passes through some spectacular scenery in the Northwest of Iran. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Spectacular scenery in Azarbaijan Province, North Iran. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Daryl Impey in his last race for MTN-Quebeka before he moves to a NetApp next week. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Bjorn Thurau rode well at the Azarbaijan Tour, finishing 10th. He is the son of the famous Thurau that wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for 15 days back in the 80s. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Alexander Malone about to take off in the 3.8km prologue. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The formidible Tabriz-Petrochemical Cycling Team lining up for the 38km hilly TTT. They won with a stunning 46.38 time, crushing their nearest rivals by almost a full minute. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Powerhouse Mehdi Sohrabi just pips Schumacher for the bunch sprint to nab second place during stage 1. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The 3.8km prologue was a tough one for the riders, having to battle strong winds and a 2-3% gradient! Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Alexey Lyalko (Astana Track Team) had a sensational solo ride to win stage one and wore yellow for a day. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Alexey Lyalko (Astana Track Team) had a sensational solo ride to win stage 1. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Italian Roberto Cesaro from the Miche-Guericotti team surrounded by some Persian fans. Cesaro finished 29th on GC. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher reflecting on his TTT, wondering how the Tabriz-Petrochemical Cycling Team got so much time on them. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher is filling in the doping control form after winning the final stage. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Ghader Mizbani (Tabriz-Petrochemical Team) is a hero in Iran due to his cycling abilities, particularly climbing. He has been likened to Andy Schleck.. Photo: Daniel Carruthers.
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Daryl Impey (MTN-Quebeka) was second on final day and also was subject to doping control. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Iranian women cyclists present…. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Mehdi Sohrabi (Tabriz-Petrochemical) the overall winner of the Azarbaijan Tour. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Alexey Lyalko (Astana Track Team) takes the Sprint King title. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The South African team, MTN-Qubeka was third in the TTT. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
The peloton tackles the 10km long KOM 6% climb. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Local Tabriz boys cheering for their hero, Mehdi Sohrabi. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Davide Rebellin (Miche-Guerciorti) is just back from his 2-year doping suspension; this is his first major tour back and finished fifth overall. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Colombian climbing sensation, Libardo Nino Corredor (Letua) drilling hard on the front for the 10km climb during stage 4. His brother Miguel won the stage by 30 seconds.
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Stefan Schumacher (MICHE-Guercci) takes the opening 3.8km prologue in a super quick time of 4.45, 10 seconds clear of 2nd placed Miguel Nino Corredor (Letua). Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Letua’s Miguel Nino Corredor put his excellent TT skills to use to win stage 4. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
What is Stefan Schumacher looking so serious for? Photo: Daniel Carruthers
2011 International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan
Alexander Malone (Team Plan B) is mobbed by his Iranian fans. Photo: Daniel Carruthers
International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan 2011 Race Map
International Cycling Tour of Azarbaijan 2011 Race Map