Albury’s Jesse Featonby has produced his best professional result with a top-four finish in the Tour of Iran.
Featonby was just seven seconds away from grabbing a spot on the podium and only 14 seconds off the pace of race winner Rob Ruijgh, who finished 20th in the 2011 Tour de France.
He fought his way to the result by finishing fourth in stage two and seventh in stage four, completing the six-stage race in 23 hours, 11 minutes and 45 seconds.
His teammate Matthew Ross was 25 seconds behind him to claim a top-five spot.
Featonby admitted it was a great effort, but had mixed emotions because he lost his spot in the top-three in the dying stages.
“To get that close and have it taken away on a downhill rather than an uphill was really frustrating,” Featonby said.
“The quality of the field was really good, the two Iranian teams are the top two teams in Asia.
“I had a crash on the first day and a flat tyre which put me on the back foot because I had to chase back on twice to get back in the race.
“The second day was 214 kilometres long and in the last 50 kilometres I got in a breakaway with four guys and finished fourth which put me in a good position for the rest of the tour.
“I held my position for the next two days and moved up to third overall, but on the second last day I got isolated after the final climb and a breakaway went up the road, so the guy that was 50 seconds behind me ended up getting that time back to finish third.”
Featonby faced a testing week on the bike, not because of the heat, but more so the altitude.
“The majority of days were around the 200-kilometre mark in a pure desert,” he said.
“Because it was so open and wide there were crosswind sections which meant it was really hard riding.
“The hilltop finish was 2300 metres and you don’t get anything like that in Australia.
“We never went below 1400 metres, so even sleeping at night was a struggle because you’ve finished a hard race and there’s less oxygen there to breathe.
“It was really difficult to back up each day because of that factor.”
But it’s an experience he’ll forever cherish.
“It’s an amazing place, you could easily go there and travel,” Featonby said.
“As soon as you tell people you’re going to do a big bike race in Iran, the response was ‘are you crazy?’
“The people over there were super friendly and their values and culture is so different to ours.
“I would have never planned to have gone there myself, but it was good to be able to.
“We didn’t feel unsafe at all, you didn’t see guys walking around with guns or anything like that.”
However, the flight home was longer than expected.
“I left on Friday and didn’t get back until Monday lunchtime,” Featonby said.
“We had to leave Iran at 2am to fly to Turkey and then stayed the whole day there.
“We then flew to Qatar and had an eight-hour delay which threw everything out, so I had to stay the night in Melbourne and drove back to Albury the next morning.”
Featonby’s Drapac Pat’s Veg team finished with three podiums as well as a stage win on the final day, finishing as the only team with two riders in the top-five of general classification.