Vuelta a Espana Stage 1: BMC kings of the Vuelta sandcastle

World team time trial champions BMC took the bull by the horns and stormed to victory along 7.4km of stunning Spanish coastline from Puerto Banus to Marbella, just pipping both Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE to the top step of the podium by the narrowest of margins. Although the stage was neutralised as far as the individual times were concerned, the first of their five riders over the line, Slovakian Peter Velits, will wear the leader’s red jersey on tomorrow’s stage.

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Tour of Oman preview

Tour of Oman logoFrom 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 RodriguezAlberto 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?

Peter Velits, last year's Tour of Oman GC winner (image courtesy of OPQS)

Peter Velits, last year’s Tour of Oman GC winner (image courtesy of OPQS)

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.

Stage 4's Green Mountain finish will determine the GC

Stage 4’s Green Mountain finish will determine the GC

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.

Will Froome be on Wiggo's wheel or vice versa? (image courtesy of Team Sky/Scott Mitchell)

Will Froome be on Wiggo’s wheel or vice versa? (image courtesy of Team Sky/Scott Mitchell)

Race details

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

Link: Official website

Who’s moving where for 2013? #4

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

The Velits twins – Quick Step to CCC Polkowice?

Image courtesy of brassynn/Flickr

According to unconfirmed reports, the Slovak twins Peter and Martin Velits of Omega Pharma-Quick Step have been holding talks with little-known Polish team CCC Polkowice, in what surely ranks as one of the strangest transfer links of the ‘silly season’ so far.

The Velits twins moved to Quick Step from the now-defunct HTC-Highroad team ahead of the 2012 season, but have struggled to deliver results leading to suggestions that they are heading away from Patrick Lefevre’s outfit. After an impressive second place in the 2010 Vuelta, 27-year old Peter was tipped as a potential Grand Tour winner, though an 18th place at the 2011 Tour de France is the best result he has achieved at a major race since then. Martin has not added an individual win to his palmares since the national time trial championship in 2010.

Will it happen? 2/5. It is weird and wonderful stories like this one which make the transfer season so amusing and entertaining. Despite not having the most spectacular of seasons, both are very capable riders, with Peter in particular a potential race winner. It would take a lot to tempt them away from the WorldTour, let alone to a team who haven’t even got Pro Continental status. It it were to come off, it will undoubtedly be a leading contender for ‘coup of the season’.

Aleksandr Serebryakov heading a trio of non-Basques at Euskaltel?

The released Amets Txurruka made sure the world knew about his team’s new policy of signing non-Basque riders when it was announced his own contract would not be renewed. Now the floodgates appear to have opened, and three non-Basques (with two of them not even Spanish) being strongly linked to the team.

Image courtesy of Team Type 1

Portuguese Ricardo Mestre (Tavira) and the Spaniard Juan Jose Lobato (Andalucia) are two of the three, but it is the third, Russian Aleksandr Serebryakov, who is the most intriguing. Serebryakov, who rides on the diabetics-only Team Type 1, has won races all around the world, with his top European highlight being a top five at this year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

After the departure of Koldo Fernandez to Garmin-Sharp for the 2012 season, Euskaltel were left without any capable sprinters at all, and the introduction of Serebryakov would most certainly change that, ushering in a new – and some say unwelcome – era at the carrot-clad mountain goats.

Will it happen? 3/5. Euskaltel have made no secret of the fact that they are being forced to look outside of their own region for WorldTour points, so these moves are certainly feasible on a practical basis. Whether Euskaltel are looking at these riders specifically I can’t be certain, though without doubt Serebryakov would plug a huge sprinter-sized gap in a team of mainly climbers.

Pippo Pozzato – Farnese Vini to Lampre?

Image courtesy of Farnese Vini

There has been yet another twist in the Pippo Pozzato story. Now it seems fairly certain he will be leaving the Farnese Vini team for the WorldTour, but the only question is: to whom? From Movistar and Katusha to Saxo Bank, he has been linked with just about every team going, with Lampre now joining the queue.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Pozzato would fill the void left by Grega Bole for the Classics, though Lampre are not exactly a team known for their prowess in the spring races in recent years. Nevertheless, Pozzato achieved some excellent results at a Pro Continental team last season, so may be unperturbed by a potentially relatively weak team protecting him.

Will it happen? 4/5. Despite so many teams being linked with Pozzato already this season, this one feels more probable than any other. The obvious Italian connection between Pozzato and Lampre adds fuel to the fire, with the famous fuchsia team looking to bolster their Classics roster. It’s one I can see happening.