Where the sand-blasted Tour of Qatar was all about flat finishes, beige motorways and OPQS, the Tour of Oman was all about green mountains, coastal routes and a peloton full of superstars. The particular superstar who won this race was Chris Froome (Sky), who held off an attacking Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), a stage-winning firecracker in the form of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and a back-on-form Cadel Evans (BMC) to win. We also saw the return of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), with his audacious victories and his effervescent victory salutes. As The Rock would say, bring it!
The first red leader’s jersey (and green jersey and young rider jersey) of the race went to Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), who won a dead straight sprint finish in front of Davide Appollonio (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). Tom Boonen, in his first race since time off for his septic elbow problem, looked none the worse for wear in fifth place. Kittel’s win was the first for the Argonauts as a WorldTour team. Bradley Wiggins, the yin of Sky, got held up at the back of a crash 2km from the finish and was controversially placed last in the GC with a deficit of 1:21, while the yang of Sky, Chris Froome, came in safely in the bunch behind Kittel.
It was another first-ever win for another team in stage two, when Peter Sagan of the new Cannondale team kicked out a late attack to break from the pack less than a kilometre from the finish and put on a fine victory salute a good five seconds before Tony Gallopin (RadioShack) rolled over the finish. Sagan took the red jersey and commented:
The finish suited me but you have to have the legs to win. I had them today.
Seems to me he has them most days …
SuperSagan was back for another win in stage three with such a show of power that in the last 500 metres he had time to sit up and give a look of feigned bewilderment as to where everyone had gone. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) came in second and Gallopin was third with Alberto Contador on his wheel.
Green Mountain was always going to be the decisive stage between the main GC contenders – Froome, Contador, Evans, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Rodriguez – and it didn’t disappoint. Each of these riders took their opportunities to attack, hoping to crack the others, but it was only Rodriguez who could sneak away and get the gap on the way up the mountain. Froome did an excellent job of checking his losses and ended up in the leader’s red jersey, 24 seconds ahead of birthday boy Evans and a further second in front of Contador. Purito showed himself to be quite the romantic by dedicating the Valentine’s Day stage to his wife.
Contador came out on stage five all guns blazing, launching a number of attacks on the late climbs of the stage, reminding us what an exciting rider he is. Froome, however, wasn’t shaken and kept it together until leading out the sprint to the finish, with Contador hot on his wheel and Rodriguez a few bike lengths behind him. Ever the workhorse, Evans came in four seconds behind the lead three to maintain his podium place.
The final stage saw Bouhanni sprint to victory in his French national colours, outdistancing Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Taylor Phinney (BMC). Froome finished safely in the pack to win his first professional stage race. The podium was completed by two former Tour de France winners, Contador and Evans. The best young rider jersey went to Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), most aggressive rider was Bobbie Traksel (Champion System) and the points jersey was awarded to Froome. Best team was BMC.
Analysis & opinion
This was a wonderful race – a challenging, varied parcours raced by a peloton with depth and flair. It was a race of firsts, with Argos-Shimano posting up their first ever race as a WorldTour team, Cannondale’s first victory as a new team and a first ever stage race win by a favourite for this year’s Tour de France.
Does this race tell us anything about the GC riders that we didn’t know? Not really. Rodriguez and Contador were in attacking form, Froome gave us his own unique combination of grinding it out and springing away, Sky did its best to control the race for their man and Evans showed he still had a taste for hard, hard work and could quietly hold his own in the midst of all the Spanish fireworks.
For me, the surprise of the Tour was Evans, who placed third on the podium, looked strong and determined throughout the race and gives me hope that he’ll go from strength to strength as the season progresses. If this podium is an indication of July – and let’s remember, anything can happen between now and the summer – we should be in for a ripping time.
And what of the Wiggins/Froome teeter-totter? It seemed to be finely balanced in this race, although I’m not sure if that was because that was Sky’s plan or because of Wiggins’ last place after he was caught up behind the big crash in stage one. If Froome had not finished so strongly or Wiggins not been so far behind, I wonder if Sky would have been so sure of Froome as their man for the race from the get-go. Wiggins kept his head down for most of the week, preferring to sidestep most of the press and rolling out each day in the back of the peloton, but he did work for Froome during some of the latter stages. [Tim will be analysing Froome’s performance in Oman in his Talking Tactics column next Wednesday – Ed.]
Wiggins spoke to VeloNews earlier in the week and he said:
For Chris, it’s about the rest of the team having confidence in him. He took that leadership on when we came to this race, saying, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Oh, and one other bit of opinion. Sagan? He’s going to have a monster year.
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 23:28:33
2. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:27
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:39
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:50
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:13
6. Johann Tschopp (IAM) +1:13
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +1:19
8. Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) +1:34
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:44
10. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:57