After the building anticipation of who might come out all guns blazing on Stage 5, the day ultimately ended as a damp squib; cancelled after sandstorms and soaring temperatures left it too dangerous to contest. Because of this, Rafael Valls seems guaranteed the surprising victory of this year’s Tour of Oman; the final day left constructed for the sprinters to contest.
Beginning at Oman Airport, Stage 6 is a 133km ride to Matrah Corniche; where they will be expected to complete two city centre circuits before crowning the day’s winner. A few noteworthy bumps are present on the profile card, the first being Al Hamriyah after 89km of riding, a reasonable hill which leads the peloton down a gradual descent down to the subsequent intermediate sprint. This is then followed by the 1.4km run up Al Jissah; the 9% average gradient likely to seem familiar after appearing on Stage 2 already. A couple times around the 7km city circuit comprises the final 14km’s worth of racing; a brief incline at 3.5km on the second lap could see an attempted breakaway form. The flat road slinks through the streets, opening onto the finish after the last turn at the 400m mark.
It seems unlikely that anyone is going to prevent Rafael Valls from securing a major win, but it might be worth watching out for Alejandro Valverde. The Movistar rider is 19 seconds down, can sprint well and will view the earlier climbs as a nice way to soften the legs of the sprinters. Realistically, the Spaniard would need to win the stage (taking a time bonus) and gap Valls by several seconds further to overturn the lead.
Turning focus onto the likely contenders for a bunch kick trawls up the usual likes of Nacer Bouhanni, Alexander Kristoff, Andrea Guardini, Matteo Pelucchi and Sam Bennet. Despite having struggled to impress much this year, Bouhanni tends to perform well when the finale gets technical and sight of the finishing line comes late. The testing streets could diminish the benefit of a leadout train, meaning a more level playing field for the Cofidis star. Form is temporary, but Kristoff is certainly enjoying it while it lasts; the Katusha man will be a big favourite with the punters once again.
A duo which have shown great consistency thus far are Guardini and Pelucchi; it would come as no surprise to see at least one of them make the podium. One man who has gone missing since the first stage is the young Sam Bennet, a sprinter who could utilise his team’s support with great effect. He won the final day in Qatar having been one of the last home on the previous day; he may have been saving himself once again to finish with a bang.
1st Bouhanni 2nd Bennet 3rd Guardini