Fabian Cancellara had maintained a low profile on the early stages of the Tour of Oman, but the Swiss rider and his RadioShack-Nissan team were among the principal animators of stage 4 to Al Wadi Al Kabir.
Over the splendid climb of Bousher Alamrat, flanked on either side by natural rock terraces, the RadioShack-Nissan squad drove the pace at the head of the peloton, their first significant show of force in a race where Jakob Fuglsang is expected to be among the contenders for overall victory. After making huge inroads into the early break’s advantage there, Cancellara and his teammates were again to the fore on the testing finishing circuit.
“We wanted to try something today out of respect for the race,” Cancellara told Cyclingnews after crossing the line. “There were three of us at the front and we knew that the finishing circuit was quite tough and the route beforehand too. It was hard, but maybe not hard enough to blow everything apart.”
Their efforts, coupled with aggression from Sylvain Chavanel (Omega PharmaQ-QuickStep) and Liquigas-Cannondale en masse, were enough to cull a slew of top sprinters from the rear of the peloton, but they were unable to rid themselves of eventual winner André Greipel (Lotto Belisol).
Unable to force his way clear alone in the finale, even with help from Andy Schleck, Cancellara threw his lot in behind his young French teammate Tony Gallopin, who finished a fine third.
“If there was a chance, we might have tried something with me but the course wasn’t really selective enough,” Cancellara said. “Still, for non-sprinters, to have done third place in the end with Tony, we can be happy.”
Building for the classics
While Cancellara was the first ever winner of the Tour of Oman in 2010, his primary reason for being in the Arabian Peninsula in February is to prepare for rather more longstanding events in northern Europe in April. The Swiss rider gave a cameo demonstration of his capabilities on stage 4 in Qatar, but he acknowledged that there is room for improvement ahead of the classics.
“All told, I’m happy. There are some small things where I need to improve, but I know where, so that makes me quite relaxed,” he said. “It’s gone quite well, but two weeks is a long time with all these transfers in Qatar and Oman.”
During those two weeks, Cancellara has not only raced against almost all of his principal classics rivals, he has stayed in the same hotel as them, eaten in the same dining room as them every night and shared the same transfers with them. Even at this early remove from the cut and thrust of the cobblestones, is there scope for a certain degree of psychological warfare in the gulf?
Cancellara smiled at the suggestion. “No, I live my life and I ride my race, I can only really look at myself,” he insisted. “Still, it is good to be here. From now until Tirreno-Adriatico, I won’t see anyone, so it was good to have a look at some of the riders. But then we know each other for years anyway.”