Team Sky to turn up the pressure in the mountains
Despite Chris Froome (Team Sky) only beginning his 2014 season at the Tour of Oman, he was not afraid to test his legs by joining a late move during the rolling finale of stage 3 and indicated that he and his Team Sky teammates will take on the race in the back-to-back stages for climbers on Friday and Saturday.
Froome jumped on the wheel of cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar over the top of the 1.5km Al Jissah climb, showing he has some early season form and a desire to have a go. The move was quickly caught, and Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) got back to the front to win the sprint but Froome seemed to enjoy blowing away cobwebs and firing a shot across the bows of his Tour of Oman rivals.
"I felt a good sensation being able to follow the front guys, and Stybar has just won the world 'cross title. That's extremely intense racing, and so I was surprised I was able to go with him today," Froome told a small group of the journalists at the Tour of Oman during a round-table interview before heading to dinner.
"The final five kilometres of today's stage was the first time I've really been able to feel the race was difficult. I feel it's just getting started now."
"It's always strange before the first race because for over two months now, I've just been training, training, training. You don't really have anyone to compare yourself with or understand where you're going to be in race conditions. So that's one thing I like about Oman because we always have big contenders here who I'll be able to test myself against and see where I'm at."
The mountain showdown
Froome and his Grand Tour rivals will know about their own and each other's early season form on the four climbs in the final 70km of Friday's 173km stage and on the 5.7km, 10.5% climb to the finish on the slopes of Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain).
Froome won a very similar stage to Friday's route in the 2013 Tour of Oman to set him up for overall victory. He then defended his lead on Green Mountain, where Joaquim Rodriguez won the stage.
He predicted a similar outcome for this year's key stages but was not afraid to put his cards on the team and confirm that Team Sky will be aggressive.
Froome has support from a strong team that includes Dario Cataldo, Sergio Henao, David Lopez, new signing Mikel Nieve, Danny Pate, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Ben Swift.
"I think tomorrow (Friday) will be quite decisive," he said.
"It's not a mountain top finish, but last year we did this climb (Bousher Alamrat) three times and there were only three of left at the front of the race: myself, Rodriguez and Contador. This time we do it four times and so it could just as decisive as last year."
"What happens in the Green Mountains depends on what happens tomorrow. It'll also be another day to defend a jersey or another opportunity to try and take a jersey. Not necessarily for myself but maybe for one of my teammates."
"We've got a strong team here but with a relaxed mentality. There's a bit of pressure to defend the title after winning last year but I think the team here is capable and we're definitely going to make the race."
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