From the motorways cutting through the flat desert sands of the Tour of Qatar to the hillier and greener parcours of the Tour of Oman, this race has something for sprinters, puncheurs and climbers. In its fourth year, it’s already a race that attracts some of the biggest names of the sport, including Joaquim Rodriguez, Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins.
What kind of race is it?
Part of the UCI Asia Tour calendar, this Cat 2.1, six-day race is organised by Tour de France organiser ASO and the parcours is set by Eddy Merckx.
The most recent winners of the race are:
2010: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
2011: Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
2012: Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
What happened last year?
Last year’s race really put down the markers for the sprinters and gave us a glimpse of what was going to happen the rest of the year when the fast-twitchers got within sight of the finish line. The stellar field including Mark Cavendish, in his first and only year at Sky, Marcel Kittel (1t4i) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas), and the first stage was won by Lotto Belisol’s Andre Greipel. Stage two saw SuperSagan setting out his stall by showing the power that was going to take him to five stage wins in the Tour of California and the green jersey in July. He rode away from Baden Cooke (GreenEDGE) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (this year’s Tour Down Under winner) in the ‘too steep for your average sprinter but not too steep for a velvet samurai’ run-in to the finish.
Marcel Kittel outkicked Greipel in stage three, thanks to the work of his team to bring back a breakaway – a glimpse of the kind of teamwork and esprit de corps that the Argonauts would show all year for both him and John Degenkolb. Stage four was another emphatic win by Greipel, who outpowered Sagan to take the win. Stage five was won by Vincenzo Nibali, who attacked at the foot of Green Mountain, hoping to take both the stage and the leader’s jersey, but Peter Velits (OPQS) did just enough to keep it by one second. Stage six was another victory for Kittel and the Omega Pharma boys were able to defend their man’s one-second lead to bring him over the finish line as the Tour’s overall winner.
1. Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 21:32:02
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:01
3. Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:17
4. Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) +0:21
5. Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat) +0:30
6. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) +0:30
7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:47
8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:47
9. Thomas Lebas (Bridgestone Anchor) +0:50
10. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:52
Go here for a full recap of 2012’s race.
This year’s race
Just as last year, the stage victories will mostly go to sprinters. Stages one and two nip in and out of the coast, with the latter having a few hills to challenge the sprinters coming into the finish – possibly one for Peter Sagan. Stage three is the longest at 190km, the day before the peloton gets to the stage that will determine the GC with a finish atop Green Mountain.
It’s back to the sprinters, when stage five loops around itself for a few circuits of the course before three nasty little climbs in the last 50km and a fast descent to the finish at the Ministry of Housing. Finally stage six starts at the wonderfully named Sink Hole Park before ending the Tour on the Matrah Corniche.
Who to watch
Tour of Qatar winner Mark Cavendish is enjoying a few days’ R&R and Andre Greipel’s Lotto Belisol are not present at this race, so the hotly anticipated showdown between the two best pure sprinters in the peloton will have to wait for another day. However, there will be plenty of sprint talent pursuing victories, with Peter Sagan the headline act as he seeks to kick off 2013 in the same way he did 2012.
With Cavendish scheduled instead for the Volta ao Algarve, Omega Pharma-Quick Step will welcome back Tom Boonen, fully recovered from his nasty elbow injury and infection. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) is also set to ride, rumour and innuendo be damned. But it will be the GC contenders that will be the most interesting to watch: 2012 world number one rider, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Vincenzo Nibali in his new Astana colours, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Cadel Evans (BMC) are all pencilled in for the start line so there’s no lack of talent here.
And then there’s Sky, who will field both Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Considering “the Giro/Tour double is possible and I’m the man to do it” and the “I am 100% the leader of the Tour” media ping-pong between the two of them, it will be intriguing to see how they ride together (or not) and what Sky’s expectations are for this race. Body language, especially on the bike, will be most interesting and I suspect that this might be the story of the Tour.
February 11th: Stage 1 – Al Musannah to Sultan Qaboos University, 162km
February 12th: Stage 2 – Fanja in Bidbid to Al Bustan, 146km
February 13th: Stage 3 – Nakhal Fort to Wadi Dayqah Dam, 190km
February 14th: Stage 4 – Al Saltiyah in Samail to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), 152.5km
February 15th: Stage 5 – Al Alam Palace to Ministry of Housing in Bosha, 144km
February 16th: Stage 6 – Hawit Nagam Parkto Matrah Corniche, 144km
The Tour of Oman starts on Monday 11th February and concludes on Sunday 16th. Stage highlights will be shown in the UK by Eurosport the morning after each stage. For live video and audio coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website