Strong Astana squad for Aru's debut in Oman

Italian beginning 2017 campaign in desert race alongside Fuglsang, Kangert, Lutsenko

Fabio Aru will have a strong Astana roster behind him for his season debut next week at the Tour of Oman February 14-19, including Olympic road race runner-up Jakob Fuglsang, 2016 Abu Dhabi Tour winner Tanel Kangert and Tour of Hainan winner Alexey Lutsenko.

Aru will be targeting the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana in 2017, choosing to skip the Tour de France and opting for his first-ever start in Oman, while Fuglsang and Miguel Angel Lopez will share Astana dual leadership for the Tour. Aru won the Vuelta in 2015 and took second in the Giro that same year. His first attempt at the Tour de France last season ended in 13th overall.

The Tour of Oman has become an important early stepping stone for Grand Tour contenders. Vincenzo Nibali won the race last year on the heels of Rafael Valls' 2015 win for Lampre-Merida. Chris Froome (Team Sky) won the Tour of Oman in 2014 and 2013. Fuglsang was third here last year.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) finished on the podium in Oman a year ago and returns in 2017, as will former world champion Rui Costa (UAE Abu Dhabi) and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors). Classics stars like Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina) will also be in action.

The balanced route offers opportunities for sprinters and puncheurs alike ahead of the anticipated general classification shuffling on the slopes of Green Mountain on the penultimate day. The first stage favours a sprint finish, while stage 2 to Al Bustan and stage 3 to Quriyat have hilly finales that should provide the Classics men with a chance to stretch their legs. Green Mountain, known locally as Jebel Akhdar, has featured in all seven editions of the race. The 5.7km climb, with its average gradient of 10.5 percent, should prove decisive, as it did for Nibali in 2016.

Astana roster for the Tour of Oman: Fabio Aru, Daniil Fominykh, Jakob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, Bahktiyar Kozhatayev, Alexey Lutsenko, Nikita Stalnov, Andrey Zeits

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