Having camped out in the Middle East for some weeks now, the WorldTour peloton will see their residence in the desert come to an end with the beginning of the Tour of Oman. The final race in the newly founded triumvirate of curtain raisers alongside Dubai and Qatar; Oman is the first time this season battle lines will be drawn by the climbers. Despite Chris Froome’s decision to swerve the race and the opportunity to become three times champion; this is no ragtag field of riders to contest the title.
Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay Van Garderen, Alejandro Valverde, Thibaut Pinot and Joaquim Rodriguez are all present to throw down the gauntlet on the now traditional decisive climb of Green Mountain. Despite the likelihood of the race being won there on Stage 4, the diverse terrain throughout the week has attracted a strong field of sprinters and classics specialists; Peter Sagan, Sam Bennet, Alexander Kristoff, Tom Boonen and Nacer Bouhanni all join the race after mixed fortunes at the Tour of Qatar last week. Fresher faces will be apparent in the shape of Daniel Moreno, Warren Barguil, Leopold Konig and Rui Costa; all of whom could ride into the spotlight during the week.
Organisers open the race with a sprinter friendly stage similar to last year’s first day in the saddle; a finish which gave Andre Greipel the stage win and leader’s jersey on that occasion. Tracing an easterly path from Bayt al Naman Castle to Al Wutayyah on the outskirts of the capital Muscat, the 161km day should be a relatively simple affair for the peloton. With 60km remaining the race will head into the capital via the wide-open super highway; a route which may leave some exposed should the wind become a prominent feature.
Assuming everyone will be together in the final kilometres, it should be a straight forward drag race for the sprinters to contest. There is a marginal bump in the profile with 400 – 300 meters remaining, but the downhill inclination of the proceeding kilometre should nullify its impact upon the outcome.
Al Wutayyah has already seen one previous stage finish at the Tour of Oman; the top three on that day being Matt Goss, Daniele Bennati and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Though all three are present here once again, it is likely they will find trying to finish so high this time around a torrid affair. Goss and Boasson Hagen are now teammates, while Bennati is likely to be there as support for Peter Sagan; who is showing good form after racing in Qatar. Alexander Kristoff is another rider in form, arriving here on the back of three convincing victories in Qatar, but is unlikely to find the bunch sufficiently thinned out to dominate here. Those with a faster kick on the flat should be the favourites for this opening stage, so eyes will be upon the likes of Nacer Bouhanni, Adam Blythe, Sam Bennet, Roberto Ferrari, Tom Boonen and the ever improving Danny Van Poppel; all of which come here with solid support. There is little here to go on in terms of predicting an outcome; ultimately asking what is best – Freshness or Form?
Having finished in the top five everyday (bar the ITT) in Qatar, Peter Sagan might finally see his fortunes change here as form becomes first place at last. Despite Nacer Bouhanni acquiring his critics already this year with a spluttering leadout train, his blend of pure speed and strategic agility to follow wheels will be the major threat to Sagan. Returning to the WorldTour has looked effortless thus far for Adam Blythe and he will be leading the charge for Orica-GreenEDGE in the sprints. The Brit often benefits from a reduced bunch kick, but should still place well here with a good leadout from Orica.
1st Bouhanni 2nd Sagan 3rd Blythe