Tour of Oman review: Valls vanquishes Green Mountain to claim victory

A surprising win on the Green Mountain queen stage ensured overall victory for Rafael Valls of Lampre-Merida, only his second ever professional win. For the second year in a row BMC’s Tejay van Garderen kicked off his season with second place both on Green Mountain and in the general classification. Alejandro Valverde continued his good form with third place on the podium.

Rider of the race

There were 837.5km of racing over five stages at the Tour of Oman this year, and for just about every single kilometre my rider of the race was off the front of the peloton. Yes indeed, stand up and take a bow in that very snazzy combative jersey Jef van Meirhaeghe of Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise.

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Breakaway king Jef van Meirhaeghe (TSV) showing the combative jersey off on stage three (Image: Tour of Oman)

You can’t underestimate the value of getting into a breakaway for many teams. The exposure, especially for sponsors, is a vital part of their work. Topsport Vlaanderen are masters at this and won this jersey last year as well. The 23-year-old Belgian, in his first year for the team, was also second in the points competition to Andrea Guardini.

It takes a huge effort to get into a break and make it stick, and you know it is almost a certainty that they will get caught. But sometimes, just sometimes the break prevails and the riders get to experience the glory of riding for the stage win. I was thrilled to see this happen in stage six, where van Meirhaeghe along with Danny Pate (Sky), Ijjo Keisse (Etixx-Quick Step), and Matthias Brandle (IAM) held their advantage all the way to the finish. Brandle soloed away for the stage honours, but our breakaway king took third on the day.

Four things we liked

1. Green Mountain. At 5.7km long and an average gradient of 10.5%, the final climb of the queen stage always sorts out the general classification. 2015 was no different in this respect, but very different in that it didn’t quite produce the result many pundits were predicting.

With big names such as Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Joaquim Rodriguez and Leopold Konig already adrift on the general classification, it looked like a shoot-out between van Garderen, Valverde and Rafal Majka.

The day’s breakaway was caught at the base of the climb and a group of 20 riders pulled away. Hard riding by BMC and a series of attacks by Nibali whittled this down to just van Garderen, Majka, Valverde and Valls. The BMC rider attacked to drop first Valverde and then Majka, but he couldn’t do anything about Valls. A fantastically timed effort in the final 500 metres saw the Lampre rider power away to take the stage win and the leader’s jersey by just nine seconds. He was clearly delighted with his stage win, and even more so that he held on to his lead to take his first ever overall title.

2. MTN-Qhubeka. BMC might have won the team classification, but MTN-Qhubeka can be pleased with their time in Oman. Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Louis Meintjes both finished in the top ten, and the latter travelled home with the best young rider jersey in his suitcase. I sense things are only going to get better and better once the racing hits Europe.

3. Oh-man. Last week I moaned about the coverage at the Tour of Qatar, and I have to say things were worse for this last part of the desert triptych. It’s a shame because I know the racing is good and the scenery is beautiful. However, this week I am not going to dwell on the negatives. Instead I want to say a huge thank you to some excellent Twitter coverage from the official race account @tourofoman, the wonderful @TeamMTNQhubeka, and most especially to Eurosport commentator @robhatchtv. The award for video race coverage goes to Global Cycling Network. Sterling services one and all.

4. Taken to extremes. It’s not often that racing is completely cancelled, or that you see the peloton come to a halt under a very ornate motorway bridge to discuss the situation with organisers, but such was the case for stage five. I do not mean to make light of this situation at all, it’s serious for the teams and organisers alike and could not have been easy to resolve.

The riders know they take risks every single time they take to the start line, but temperatures hot enough to cause problems with brake systems and tyres – particularly with tricky, fast descents to tackle – is a real safety concern. I say nothing of the sandstorm that hit in the morning.

This video from GCN and a Vine from Astana show the conditions faced by the peloton that day:

In my view the cancellation of the stage was the right decision, and once again it does highlight the need for extreme weather guidelines to be put into place.

General classification

1. Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) 21:09:31

2. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +0:09

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:19

4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:32

5. Jacques Jense van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) +1:04

6. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) +1:08

7. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +1.10

8. Ben Hermans (BMC) +1:15

9. Julian Arredondo (Trek) +1:25

10. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) +1:36

Link: Official race website

Featured image: The final jersey winners. From L-R: Points – Guardini, Overall – Valls, Young Rider – Meintjes, Combative – van Meirhaeghe. (Image: Tour of Oman)

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