Though the last few days have provided plenty of entertainment and interest, they only truly served as an appetiser for the big showdown on Stage 4. For the fifth consecutive year, a battle royale is billed upon the devastating slopes of Green Mountain. This Queen Stage has repeatedly crowned its overall winner in its short history as part of the Tour of Oman; this year should be no different.
Running 189km from Sultan Qaboos Grande Mosque to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), the peloton will slink their way across the desert landscape; the day’s foe looming larger with every revolution. Tackling the major climbs proceeding terrain will not be effortless either; increasing the elevation in steps as they approach Green Moutain late on.
As the riders whittle the distance from home down to 11km, the elevation of the road begins to build gently towards the real agony of Green Mountain. The peloton will already be absorbing the early ramps’ gradients of 6% – 9% when they turn onto the final 5.5km and encounter the real challenge. Opening with 2km’s worth of 10% gradients will come as a shock to many; having been racing in the Middle East for a couple of weeks now. Cranking immediately upwards to 12% for the following kilometre, a section of 6% (of what must feel like flat by then) will offer a short moment to breath a sigh of relief. It is the final 2km which will light fuses and send sparks flying as men begin sprawling over 13.5% worth of agony; to attack or endure here is the question. A stage winning and probably race winning move will go in these final two kilometres, but when it is timed will be crucial. The majority of those aiming for the overall win could afford to leave their attack later, as they do not need to worry about gaining or overturning time deficits. Others such as Joaquim Rodriguez or Vincenzo Nibali have the talent to win the stage, but would need around a minute on all other favourites to secure a leader’s jersey.
Despite lacking Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, the field assembled to contest the Queen Stage is an embarrassment of riches in regards to climbing ability. Perhaps the most talented is Vincenzo Nibali, a man who thrives upon such devastating slopes so successfully he has won all three grand tours. It is unclear as to what form the Italian champion is in however; currently 56 seconds down on general classification. It seems extremely unlikely that ‘The Shark of Messina’ will overturn this to take the overall lead after Stage 4, he has spoken that his ambition in Oman would be to take a stage win though; there is no better.
Alejandro Valverde will be a marked man, sitting 2nd overall and already showing form beyond someone riding simply for race fitness. Realistically, the length and gradient do not suit him perfectly, but if he approaches the final kilometre as part of a diminished group, he might just run away with it. A man who will really see the absence of Froome and Contador as an opportunity to be seized upon, will be BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen. Often showing early season form, much has always been expected of the young climber and he knows how well this terrain suits him while sitting 10 seconds down on GC. BMC have also equipped him with a strong support team of Damiano Caruso, Peter Velits and Greg Van Avermaet to name a few. Froome was the only man to better him on a carbon copy of the day’s stage last year; a huge confidence boost to make his move upon.
One who could push Tejay to the limit in pursuit of victory is Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka; the Pole displaying early flourishes of power on Stage 2. He should cope well with the terrain and mustering a winning performance is not beyond the Tour de France’s King of the Mountains. Others to keep a close eye upon include Jakob Fuglslang, David Arredondo and Jacques Janse van Rensburg who all sit within spitting distance of the overall lead. Losing so much time earlier in the week might afford Leopold Konig and Joaquim Rodriguez a chance to shoot off the front while others play cat and mouse; though both have left lots to be desired thus far. The sheer number of permutations possible makes it difficult to pick who will win atop Green Moutain. Overall contender or dark horse with nothing to lose? Regardless, Tejay Van Garderen must surely see Stage 4 as a pathway to a major career scalp; he should be leader by the end of the day.
1st Rafal Majka 2nd Tejay Van Garderen 3rd Jakob Fuglslang