After knocking on the door throughout the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Qatar, Andrea Guardini (Astana) finally broke it down at the Tour of Oman to take his first win of the season and one that could yet prove to be crucial. At the end of this season, Guardini will be looking to pen a new deal with Astana for 2016 and he hopes that the win will help when it comes to negotiations with the team.
"My contract is expiring at the end of the year, so this is good. In the first two years I won little so it's important to show myself," Guardini said at the finish of stage one. "It's the result that I was hoping for already in Qatar, it means more to me than the others, after the second places it shows that I'm in good form."
Guardini bided his time perfectly on the uphill drag to the finish, after his teammate Borut Bozic strung the peloton out, he used Tom Boonen's wheel to launch his sprint in the final hundred metres. It was enough to out-do the Belgian who had been released too early by his Etixx-QuickStep team and was fading in the heat.
"With the headwind and uphill finish, it was perfect for a sprint from behind. It was good because I was a few wheels back. I took Boonen's wheel and I went full gas in the last 100 metres. The leader's jersey is special, too. I like the first stage, to get the leader's jersey and I hope for more."
The Italian is now four seconds ahead of Boonen in the overall classification, thanks to the bonus seconds at the finish.
Guardini is in his third season with the Astana team, after jumping on the scene when he beat Mark Cavendish at the 2012 Giro d'Italia. He suffered a lacklustre debut season with the Kazakh outfit, notching only a single victory up at the Tour de Langkawi. It looked like 2014 was nearing a similar conclusion but a strong second half of the season that saw him take three victories in a week – including the opening stage of the Eneco Tour – convinced the team to give him a stay of execution.
Unwilling to waste the second chance, Guardini spent the winter period motor-pacing and has come out all guns blazing in the opening races of 2015, finishing inside the top 10 in every sprint he contested. He was eager to get the year off to a good start but after two difficult years he tried to stay balanced. "In the last days of training, I thought, it'd be good to win right away, but I needed to keep calm in case the win didn't come."
He believes that the Oman victory was a culmination of his early-season performance. "The win came thanks to the placings I had in Qatar. The teams saw that I could win and gave me a great train," he explained. "Here the field is high-quality, so it's important to show myself in front."