Now in its 8th incarnation, the Tour of Oman has cemented itself as the toughest stage race in the Middle East. Well, in my opinion anyway! With a good mix of stages for the sprinters, classics guys and GC men, the race itself usually attracts a very strong start list and that’s no different this year.
The 2016 edition was won by Vincenzo Nibali, after a strong showing on the Green Mountain. With Romain Bardet and team-mate Jakob Fuglsang rounding out the podium.
This year, the order of the stages has changed ever so slightly, but the parcours remains the same. Let’s have a look!
Stage 1 should see a sprint at the end of the day and we’ll probably have a battle between Kristoff and Boonen for the first leader’s jersey of the race.
Stage 2 and a return to the very exciting opening stage we had last year.
The climb of Al Jissah is 2.5km long at 8%. It is potentially tough enough to create some gaps, but the best climbers here last year matched each other quite well. Instead, it was the downhill run to the line that saw Bob Jungels power away from everyone and take the win.
Stage 3 and a hill-top finish.
At 2.5km long with an average gradient of 6.9%, it is possible for some of the punchy classics riders to hold on. This was evident last year with Boasson Hagen winning the stage and Van Avermaet finishing in third, with Nibali wedged in between them!
Stage 4 and another opportunity for the punchy classics riders.
It used to be 4 ascents of the Bousher Al Amerat climb, however, this was changed to 3 last year to try to give the sprinters more of a chance. That didn’t go to plan, as Kristoff finished over a minute down on stage winner Boasson Hagen. Although Gerald Ciolek did finish in 6th, so it is possible!
Stage 5 and the now traditional Queen stage finish up Jabal Al Akhdar or Green Mountain as it’s otherwise known as.
This finish is tough! Steep gradients combined with warm (not ridiculously hot, but warm for this time of year) weather normally makes this a real slog for the riders.
Last year they finished further up the climb, however they’ve returned the finish line to its original position for this year’s race. The winner of this stage normally takes the GC title.
Stage 6 and one stage for the sprinters to finish off the Tour.
With the tough finishing climb on Stage 5 it is safe to say that the GC should be won by a very solid climber. Last year, Boasson Hagen managed to win 2 stages and finish 10th on the Green Mountain, but that was only enough to finish 6th overall; a minute down on race winner Nibali. There is the possibility that we could see some gaps before the Queen stage if attacks on stages 2/3/4 aren’t marked by the main contenders.
It’s also very hard to know where riders form is at this current moment. Are they looking to ease themselves into the season? Or do they want to start off strong? Nonetheless…
Astana come here with a strong team; Aru, Fuglsang and Kangert are all capable of leading here. With Fuglsang aiming for a good GC at the Tour this year, I can’t see him going incredibly well here. He does have the advantage of racing in his legs already though, with a 6th place on GC at Valenciana. Will that be enough to win here?! Aru had a fairly poor 2016, but I expect him to be much better this year. Saying that, he never starts the season in scintillating form, often taking a race to get going. He’s been preparing at altitude along with Kangert, so in theory he should be able to cope with the elevation of Green Mountain. Although I imagine the temperature difference between Oman and Sierra Nevada will be quite big! Kangert is certainly a dark-horse for this race.
Romain Bardet will be hoping to go one better than his second place last year. He started off strongly here before having his best season to date. The climb up Green Mountain is good for him, and with is descending skills he may try to take advantage on Stages 2 and 4. Has he arrived here in good condition? If so, a win is certainly achievable!
Ben Hermans finished 2nd at the recent Volta a la Comunnitat Valenciana, behind an exceptionally strong Nairo Quintana. His performance on the Queen Stage there wasn’t mesmerising, just solid. Saying that, he did finish 6 seconds ahead of Fuglsang so will be confident coming up against him here. The slightly less severe gradients in Oman should suit him more than the ones he faced in Spain. A top 5 will be his minimum aim.
After his exceptional win on Stage 1 last year, Bob Jungels slowly drifted down the GC standings, ending up in 23rd place. However, he later went on to shine at the Giro d’Italia, finishing an exceptional 6th on GC. Having already raced in Dubai so far this year and doing monster turns on the front of the peloton there, he could well be given the chance to test his climbing legs here. If not, Quick Step may turn to David De La Cruz as their leader.
Rui Costa claimed the win on the Queen Stage at the Vuelta San Juan back in January, with an impressive climbing display. Fifth on GC here last year, the parcours certainly seems to suit him and if he’s continued that climbing form then he has a real chance to get on the podium.
Dimension Data will have two, even three (Lachlan Morton), potential leaders with them in Oman. After a great Tour Down Under, Nathan Haas, will be looking to continue that fine form at this race. On paper, Green Mountain is too tough for him but he showed at the TdU he can spring a surprise on a tough climb. He stops racing for over a month after Oman has finished. Will he go out with a bang or peter out? I’m leaning more towards the latter as the Green Mountain really is on his on limits. Therefore, I think it will be Merhawi Kudus leading the team. Still only young, the Eritrean put in a great performance in Valenciana last week, finishing 2nd on the Queen Stage behind Quintana. Sixth on Green Mountain here last year, he’ll need to stop losing time on the “easier” stages to contend for a GC podium but that’s certainly possible!
Other riders who could make the top 10 are; Rein Taaramäe, Janier Acevedo and Daniel Diaz.
Bardet and the Astana boys will be tough to beat but I really liked the way Rui Costa was climbing in San Juan. His team UAE Abu Dhabi have started the season off strong and I expect that to continue. They’ll obviously want to go well in Abu Dhabi itself later in the month, but winning here would be a good starting point!
Merhawi Kudus to sneak onto the podium too!
As of now, no bet. Costa and Kudus are remarkably short, was hoping something closer to 10/1 for Rui and 33/1 for Kudus. If we get those prices elsewhere then it might be worth a dabble!
Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always! Who do you think will win GC? Any outsiders with a chance? Unfortunately I won’t have daily previews of this race out as I’ll be covering Algarve and Del Sol too so some race has to miss out. Oman’s lack of live TV coverage really letting it down! I will try to maybe do twitter mini-previews for the stages but there will be nothing more than that. Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth