The Tour of Oman provides yet another warm-weather tune-up for the European season, but the second stage race in the middle east is also shaping up to be an important race in its own right, and a further step in the globalization of the sport. World champion Philippe Gilbert will be joined on the start line by his BMC Racing teammate Cadel Evans, who is just getting started for the season. The pair are just two of a number of rainbow jersey holders to grace the Omani streets this year.
"It's been cold in Monaco, which hasn't been ideal for training, but we'll see what I can do in Oman," said Evans, who is taking on his first race since August. "I'm looking forward to getting back to racing with my teammates and pinning a number on. I chose Oman to start for its favorable weather and I had heard a lot of good things about the it. So to start the race in good weather is something I'm looking forward to and to give me an indication of how my pre-season preparation has been."
The race will host the debut of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), whose season has been delayed first by an intestinal infection and then a septic wound on his arm. Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins was out training today with the Sky team, which will also include Chris Froome as designated leader and debutante Joe Dombrowski.
The event is setting up to be a mini-Tour de France, with Evans and Wiggins competing against Joaquim Rodriguez, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador, but although he has already competed in the Tour de San Luis, Contador isn't sure where his form will be.
"It's a great turnout, but we can not lose sight of the circumstances and the part of the season we are in at the moment," Contador said to AS.com. However this is a race that is growing. I was also recently at the presentation of the Tour of Dubai, which will be debuted next year. The calendar is changing, some races are disappearing, but others are gaining strength ... And that's good for cycling."