Stage 1’s slightly uphill finish had a greater impact upon the outcome than expected, with Astana’s Andrea Guardini converting his recent form into a victory at last. The final kink in the rode benefited the strongman riders of Boonen, Kristoff and Sagan; all of which finished in the top ten. Unexpectedly high placings were also apparent with Matteo Pelucchi and Ramon Sinkeldam crossing the line in 3rd and 4th respectively.
Riders will have a much harder time on Stage 2’s 195km stretch from Al Hazm Castle to Al Bustan; cutting through Muscat to experience the city’s outlying climbs. Chances for any breakaway are likely to begin faltering once the 800m ascent of Al Hamriya (9.8%) at the 173km marker has begun draining the legs of possible escapees. As the road sweeps down towards the coastline, a small period of recovery might be possible, but it is unlikely to offer much before the real battle of the day peaks atop Al Jissah with 5.5km remaining. Stretching across 1.4 kilometres at an average gradient of 9.9%, the peloton will finds itself stretched as general classification contenders weigh up keeping their powder dry or not.
Last year featured Al Jissah as the conclusion to Stage 3; on that occasion it was succeed by a kilometre extra of riding to the finish in comparison to today. This benefited Andre Griepel enough to overturn the gap of Fabian Cancellara, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan to sprint into the leader’s jersey with the stage win. As today’s incarnation offers less time to recover before the finish, it should lend itself to those who can still sprint despite being in the red.
Tinkoff-Saxo have already announced their support of Peter Sagan in an attempt to make the most of this well suiting stage and he has to be the favourite given recent form. Alexander Kristoff should also be there or there abouts, he often flourishes in tough finishes; looking extremely strong in the last week when winning three stages at the Tour of Qatar. It would be harsh to totally rule out Nacer Bouhanni here as he has the ability to survive these harder finishes and still accelerate ferociously; evident when finishing 5th on Stage 13 of last year’s Vuelta a España. Of course, there is still a possibility that a dark horse who has no GC worries or sprinting ability could launch themselves over the top with 5.5km left. A Bardiani-CSF rider perhaps, Battaglin? Zardini?
1st Sagan 2nd Kristoff 3rd Bouhanni