Tour of Oman preview
Words by Tom Owen
Thought all the Gulf State races were the same? That the Tour of Oman would be another flat and sprinty affair like the Dubai Tour, where Marcel Kittel recently wrapped up another overall victory with three stage wins (and fellow German sprinter, John Degenkolb, took the other)? Well you’d be wrong.
Happily, the Tour of Oman is very much a race for everyone, with actual mountains and time gaps and everything, plus enough flat or hilly terrain to keep the larger, more powerful classics riders interested too. An ascent of Oman’s highest peak, Green Mountain, will most likely decide the race again as it did in 2016, when eventual general classification-winner, Vicenzo Nibali, took victory at its summit.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise to see the list of GC favourites populated by the men who go uphill fast.
Romain Bardet goes into the race as favourite, leading an AG2R team that has been bolstered by the addition of Matthias Frank – who caught the eyes of several directeurs sportif towards the end of last season with some gutsy solo climbing performances. Bardet was second to the summit of Green Mountain last year, beaten only by eventual winner, Nibali (who does not return to defend his title), and so will be high on both confidence and ambition.
Chief among those hoping to upset Bardet’s hopes of glory will be Nibali’s erstwhile teammate, Fabio Aru.
The young(ish) Italian rider has taken a lot of stick for going ‘missing’ in the most important moments of stage races in the past, but there is no denying he is a major talent. His most important domestiques will be Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang, two very strong climbers who could arguably be in with a shout of the overall for themselves.
Merhawi Kudus of Team Dimension Data is the main man for Africa’s team, while exciting Aussie, Lachlan Morton can also climb with the best of them. Don’t be surprised if Morton gets himself in the break on Green Mountain day in the hope of snatching a stage win; it’s what Dimension Data do best, after all.
Former world champion, Rui Costa, of the newly-formed UAE Abu Dhabi squad will lead their GC hopes, while Sacha Modolo may try to hoover up a win or two on the flatter stages. Costa’s best days are probably behind him though, it must be said, and had this year’s race had a stronger overall field we might not be mentioning him at all.
It’s not all about the lithe and light blokes though. There is enough rolling terrain and potential for challenging weather in Oman to make it a worthy tune-up race ahead of the looming European classics season, which kicks off later this month with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on 25 February.
As such, Tom Boonen and his Quick-Step Floors team are lining up in force on the start line on Al Sawadi Beach. Everyone’s favourite Belgian will be backed by Bob Jungels, Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra – all of whom will be valuable assets in tight finishes. Jungels, as well as young Spanish rider David de la Cruz, may also be able to mix it in the overall classification, but whether that will leave the squad’s aims too divided for success in either pursuit will remain a troubling question for the Quick-Step DS.
Competing against Boonen on the classics-style stages will be fellow Belgian and current Olympic champion, Greg van Avermaet. Norwegian fast man, Alexander Kristoff, hunted for stage wins here extremely happily in 2016, bagging himself two. That makes him the man to beat.