Chris Froome (Team Sky) promised he would ride aggressively on the first hilly stage at the Tour of Oman and he kept his word, producing several attacks on the final time over the Bousher Alamrat during stage 4 on Friday.
He ended the day with little to show for his effort, but proved that he is serious about defending his 2013 overall victory on Saturday's mountain finish on Green Mountain.
Froome finished 11th in the 22-rider group that just failed to catch Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Froome was clearly tired after an aggressive finale to the stage but still has his eye on overall victory.
"Sergio (Henao) tried on the last climb and I tried on the last climb, but each time we got a small gap and then it came back together again," Froome said.
"It was harder this year because people were attacking into a headwind and that made it easier for people to chase and follow. On the final descent Sagan, Nibali and Uran got away. Behind there wasn't much organisation but we contributed to that. At the end of the day, we're happy to not have lost."
Showdown on Green Mountain
Last year Froome finished four seconds behind stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the steep finish of Green Mountain but distanced overall rivals Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali. He knows he will have to produce a similar performance this year if he wants to take the race lead before Sunday's final flat stage on the Muscat Corniche.
"It looks it will all be decided out on the climb tomorrow. Whoever has managed to save their legs, that will definitely come in handy," he said.
"The stage should suit us well because we have a strong group of climbers here. We spent a lot of energy today, but a lot of other teams did too, so that shouldn't be a massive factor. With the GC being as tight as it is, it's all still to play for, definitely."
"I'm really happy with how my legs feel. I think I'm in good shape and I'm able to be part of the front half of the race."
"It's going to be a hard day, and although we're not racing under any real pressure here, I still want to try and defend my title. That said, when you look at the bigger picture, it's not the be all and end all, so we'll give it our best and see what happens."