Alberto Contador (Team Saxo Bank) lost several precious seconds on stage two of the Tour of Oman on Tuesday but moved quickly to take them back and show he is on form on Wednesday by distancing his overall rivals on the testing and aggressively-raced finale to the edge of the Wadi Dayqah Dam.
Contador could do little to stop Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale) winning his second consecutive stage but had the speed and acceleration to mix it with classics riders with the calibre of Greg Van Avermaert and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team). He gained some time on all his rivals and struck a psychological blow just 24 hours before the showdown on the 5.5km long Jabal al Akhdhar (Green Mountain) climb.
Contador spent several minutes recovering from his hard effort at the top of the climb and then stopped to explain how the day's racing had unfolded. Little had happened for most of the 190km stage but the smaller twisting roads in the final 25km and then the short climb to the finish at the height of the Wadi Dayqah Dam were raced intensely.
"It was a very long, interminable day, with many hours in the saddle. Most of it was very calm with a headwind most of the day but then when it hotted up, the same guys as ever were up in front," he explained.
"Considering this is the Tour of Oman, there are a lot of nervous riders and a lot of tension."
Contador tested his form on stage two with a late attack over the top of the last climb. The move didn’t come off but he seems to have found his devastating change of pace. The 13.5% gradient in the final two kilometres of the Green Mountain climb might require more strength and a long burst of anaerobic activity rather than a change of pace. But Contador seems confident he can take fight for the stage victory and so overall success as a natural consequence.
His big rivals will be 2012 Green Mountain stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Chris Froome (Team Sky), 2012 overall winner Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), who is still surprisingly strong despite not racing since last August. Other outsiders include Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), while his new teammate Domenico Pozzovivo could be a threat if he attacks early in pursuit of the stage victory.
"Each day I’m feeling stronger and I've raced up front. Tomorrow we’ll see if I can be up there again," Contador said.
"It's a very hard finish and so it'll be important to be up front with the other contenders. Position and timing your effort will be vital. Whoever is up front, will win the stage and probably the race."