THE race for the overall title in the Jelajah Malaysia was further trimmed to just a probable 18 riders after Azad University's Hossein Nateghi won a dramatic 172.7-kilomtre Stage Three from Grik to Tanah Merah yesterday.
It was a stage that went overwhelmingly under the control of the two Iranian teams Azad University and Tabriz Petrochemical.
Aptly, all but the white Malaysian riders' jersey fell into their hands -- Sohrabi also retaining the green jersey for the points classification lead, while Azad University's Abbas Saeditanha took the lead in the mountains classification for the polka dot jersey.
The stage started with three tricky climbs across the Titiwangsa range, which most notably had the Malaysian contingent struggling.
Right from the start the back of the peloton bubbled with little groups of riders being spat out the back as the climbs began, a first real breakaway of 10 riders took the first category two climb on the East-West Highway after 30.6km.
This group included just one Malaysian -- Le Tua's Ng Yong Li -- who took second spot at the line behind Saeditanha, but then disappeared into obscurity as the race got more serious.
By the second climb, a category one climb to the top of Bukit Banding, a group of 41 riders had formed.
Saeditanha was again part of it, taking third spot at the climb behind Nateghi, Sohrabi and Ride Sport's Irishman David McCann, before he shot away on his own towards the final categorised climb at the Perak-Kelantan border, which he won.
Saeditanha maintained his heart-thumping pace, sweeping both intermediate sprints of the day as well, as he continued his surge towards the finish line, even if the pack of 39 other riders regrouped by the second intermediate sprint at the 148.1km point in Batu Gajah.
As the group of 40 approached the finish, it was clear that Nateghi, who had to settle for third three times in last year's race, was looking good for his first ever stage win in the Jelajah Malaysia.
The 22-year-old edged out Doha Team's Tunisian World Cycling Centre (WCC) graduate Rafai Chtioui to the line, as Sohrabi followed in third.
"Today (yesterday) we worked for the polka dot jersey and the stage win, and we finished with both, so we are satisfied," said Nateghi.
"Last year, I finished second three times, but to Anuar Manan, who is in our team this time.
"So, we will keep working for the green jersey for Anuar, which is very possible."
Sohrabi, 28, evaded any suggestions that he could be in for a repeat of his 2007 victory, stating that he did not pack enough punch for the seventh stage, which ends at Gohtong Jaya in Genting Highlands, to think of it.
"In 2007, there was no Genting stage. This time, with Genting and with some extra kilogrammes on my body, it is no good for me.
"But our team have other riders who can go for the overall win," said Sohrabi.
All three open classification (general, points and mountains) are in Iranian hands as the peloton starts the flat 177.5km Stage Four from Pasir Mas to Kuala Terengganu today.-NST