After a total of nine days touring the desert flats in the tours of Dubai and Qatar, it’s now time for the general classification riders to stretch their legs on the Arabian peninsula. After all, nearly every Tour of Oman raced since its inception in 2010 has been won by a sprightly climber, thanks to the inclusion most years of the tough climb up Green Mountain. Over half the times the climb has featured in the tour, the winner of the stage has gone on to win overall. This year the climb, which features on stage 4, has been extended to an even greater distance, and it now will stretch to over 7km, at a beastly average of over 10% gradient.
Despite the lumpier parcours, there are still chances for the sprinters to shine in Oman. Stages 3 and 6 will be circled in the race handbooks of all the fast men. And the remaining stages, 1, 2, and 5, will suit punchier finishers or a diminished bunch finish. This is definitely the most interesting and varied parcours on offer in the Persian gulf, and it’s a total mystery why it isn’t being televised.
Expect the focus on stage 1 to fall on the last 25km, which feature two short and steep climbs in succession. Both the Al Hamriyah and Al Jissah climbs are around 9% averages, and the latter is only 4km to the finish, which comes after a quick downhill run. This is perfect for late attackers, and we’d expect riders like the in-form Edvald Boasson Hagen and Greg Van Avermaet to have a roll of the dice here.
It’s a good finish, too, for the general classification riders to gain a handful of seconds early on, and we’ll see Tom Dumoulin, Rui Costa, Dan Martin, and Richie Porte at the head of affairs at all times. However, Vincenzo Nibali can’t be overlooked for this terrain. Nibali loves a late climb and is the peloton’s master descender. He also rarely shies away from a shot at bonus seconds, so he’ll be a marked man on the run in to Al Bustan.
Stage 2 boasts the first of two summit finishes in this year’s tour, not to mention the first time the riders will see the Bousher Al Amerat climb. The Bousher Al Amerat will also be tackled not once, not twice, but thrice on stage 5, and it should prove a leg-sapping ascent. Teams with G.C. ambitions will most likely control the pace today, and the chances of a breakaway succeeding are low; the climb up to the finish marks this one out as one for the overall favourites, and the pace will be high on the way up to Quriyat. The climb itself isn’t close to being in the same league as Green Mountain, so a punchier climber might have a better chance at taking bonus seconds.
Nevertheless, we fancy Richie Porte for this. He was unstoppable on Old Willunga Hill in the Tour Down Under, and the similar ascent to the line should be enough to tempt an attack out of him. If he does go, we’ll see a hot pursuit, and we don’t think Nibali will be far behind. The old man of the peloton, Davide Rebellin, might also try his luck, and, with his recent success up the Hatta Dam in Dubai, he might even take the general classification men by surprise.
Stage 3 is by far the best chance all week for the sprinters to shine. So expect to see Katusha, Bora-Argon18, and LottoNL-Jumbo set the pace, working for their men Alexander Kristoff, Sam Bennett and Moreno Hofland. There are also chances here for Team Wanty’s Roy Jans (who performed well in Qatar last week), BMC’s Jempey Drucker and Greg Van Avermaet, and Etixx-Quickstep’s Gianni Meersman.
There’s also the former Milan-Sanremo winner Gerald Ciolek, who’s riding for his new team Stölting Service Group — but it would be asking a lot for them to steal a win when they’re up against stronger and more seasoned teams. Who will triumph? It’s hard to look past Alexander Kristoff, with his three stage wins last week alone.
Here it is, then, the now-annual Queen stage of the Tour of Oman, and the site where the race will no doubt be decided overall. The favourites should be obvious: Nibali, Porte, Martin, and Dumoulin all stand head and shoulders above the other riders here.
Given displays of recent form alone, Richie Porte is a good bet for victor on Green Mountain, and overall. He’s got the super-strong Daniel Oss to work for him, as well the clearly on-form Greg Van Avermaet and Manuel Quinziato; BMC should be able to clear a path for Porte right up the foothills of Green Mountain, in the hopes that he can dance away alone to the summit. Nibali is with his right-hand man Jakob Fuglsang, so Porte will have his work cut out if he wants to stay away. Dan Martin looks good, too, and he has Bob Jungels for support. We’ll be hoping he has a lucky start to his season in the colours of new team Etixx — his luck has been mixed at best in recent years. Tom Dumoulin is the big uncertainty here. We’ve not seen his form yet this year, and, because of the crash at a Giant-Alpecin training camp, he comes here with a much-reduced squad. However, he will have a strong asset in Søren Kragh Andersen, who rode like a dream in Qatar. If Dumoulin rides anything like he did in last year’s Vuelta, he might just be king of Green Mountain after all. Other notables includes the Ag2R duo Domenico Pozzovivo and Romain Bardet, Lampre’s Rui Costa, and don’t forget Jacques Janse van Rensburg for Dimension Data, who finished 7th on this stage last year. Rensburg comes here supported by Serge Pauwels, who himself had a great Tour de France in 2015, as well as fan-favourite Daniel Teklehaimanot.
It’s worth noting that Rafael Valls took everyone by surprise last year, so let’s have a real outsider pick, too: the young Argentinian Eduardo Sepúlveda looks good coming into this race, after an impressive Tour de San Luis. It’s going to be a great stage to watch, that’s for certain – that’s if the broadcasters bothered to show it!
There’s no chance for a breather after Green Mountain, with stage 5 returning to the territory of stage two for that triple climb of Bousher Al Amerat. The manner in which this stage is raced will depend upon how the G.C. stands after Green Mountain. If it’s tight at the top, then we could see the main contenders fighting for stage bonifications, in which case a breakaway is doomed. But if there’s a clear winner, then this does look like a good chance for a group of opportunists to go long.
From the last peak of Al Amerat it’s 13km of downhill and flat to the finish, so it might even suit a solo effort. It’s a very tough one to pick. We’ll go with the gifted descenders of the peloton Vincenzo Nibali and Romain Bardet to go long at the end. Should a breakaway make it, then we’ll have our eyes on Pieter Weening, Nathan Earle, Marco Marcato, and Rasmus Guldhammer.
The final stage should be perfect for a bunch sprint to round off the tour, which has been the case three out of the last four years. However, two obstacles could scupper that: Al Hamriyah and Al Jissah, two 9% climbs that measure 800m and 1.4km respectively.
If a decent group or a strong rider finds a healthy gap over Al Jissah, then we could see the break or an individual take the day — as we did with Matthias Brändle last year. That final climb will be crested with 35km remaining, so the big engines will be needed for a break or solo escapee to stick it. They don’t come much bigger than Stijn Vandenbergh. The Belgian strongman rode to a similar victory, with a bag flapping in his wheel, no less, at the recent Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He’d be a great pick for a late attack on stage 6.
However, we’re still counting on a final sprint at Matrah Corniche. Expect a repeat of stage 3, then, and look to Alexander Kristoff to steal the show. Here’s hoping Sam Bennett can also go well today, and take something with him from the Arabian peninsula.
James like Dan Martin for this one. He’ll be looking to follow in the footsteps of Kittel, another new Etixx signing, by getting a win in early for his new team; he’s also got the motivation of wanting to shrug off a bad 2015 season. Martin’s been looking to prove himself as a G.C. man, and not just as a stage racer, and Oman offers him the right opportunity, especially on the short summit finish on stage 2.
Andy, based on the form shown in the Tour Down Under, thinks Richie Porte will take this, thanks to a likely win on Green Mountain. Its early days yet, but the move to BMC seems to have given Porte a new lease of life. He also comes here with an exceptionally strong team, who are in top shape after Qatar.
Chris is going for Vincenzo Nibali. We’ve not seen anything of Vincenzo’s current form, but let’s be honest: nine times out of ten he’s up there with the best of them, fighting on the inclines, and hurling himself down the descents. He’ll give it his for an early-season win.
Amendment: This article originally mentioned Dumoulin as having suffered an injury during the Giant-Alpecin training camp crash. In fact, Dumoulin wasn’t involved in that crash.