Tour of Oman’s future depends on success of 2016 edition

Race organiser Merckx comments on extreme weather and Froome’s absence

The future of the Tour of Oman will only be decided following this year’s seventh edition of the event, according to representatives from both the race organisation and local government.

“The government will decide after this edition of the race and it all depends on the success of the tour,” said Salim bin Mubarak Al Hassani, chairman of Oman’s Sports Activities Committee, in a press conference in Muscat on Monday afternoon. “There will be an announcement after this race.”

Race organiser Eddy Merckx told reporters that he was optimistic that the Tour of Oman, which is run with the help of ASO, would continue for another three-year term, but said that the final decision rested squarely with the Omani government.

“Everything depends on the municipality,” Merckx said. “The Minister for Tourism is very positive because cycling is the only sport that shows the whole country and that’s important for tourism.”

During the press conference, Merckx also issued a mea culpa on behalf of the race organisation for the cancellation of the penultimate stage of last year’s Tour of Oman after riders staged a protest to highlight the extreme weather conditions.

A sandstorm amid soaring temperatures caused the start location of stage 5 to be moved, and Merckx acknowledged that placing the new neutralised zone on a descent had been an error. After a number of riders punctured as a result of hard braking on the descent, the Tour of Oman peloton called for the stage to be cancelled.

“It was a mistake of the organisation, absolutely,” Merckx said. “We should never have given the start with a neutralised descent, it was impossible. We did the same one year [as a rider] in the Tour of Italy and at the bottom we had to stop and change all the wheels. If we had gone straight to the finish line and started the stage from there, nothing would have happened.”

Merckx added that temperatures at this year’s Tour of Oman were due to peak at 28 degrees Celsius – “At the Tour Down Under, it was 40 degrees” – and said that the length of transfers before and after stages had been reduced significantly in comparison with previous editions.

On the other hand, as at the recent Tour of Qatar, there is a relative paucity of WorldTour teams in the Tour of Oman peloton compared to two or three years ago.

Merckx cited the Rio 2016 Olympics and the busier February calendar as reasons for the absence of some teams, pointing out that Orica-GreenEdge and Movistar were essentially obliged to participate at home races the Herald Sun Tour and Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, respectively.

Asked about the absence of two-time Tour of Oman winner Chris Froome (Team Sky), who opted instead to start his season in Australia at the Herald Sun Tour, Merckx said: “What can I say? He rode a small race at the Sun Tour with only three WorldTour teams at the start.

“He wanted to start off with a race at a small level. The Sun Tour made a lot of publicity but there were only three WorldTour teams there.”

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