Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) received confirmation of his pre-Classics form with third place on the uphill finish on stage 3 of the Tour of Oman, on a day when crosswinds gave the peloton a true workout.
The Belgian ultimately had to bow to Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), who surged clear at the top of the Qurayyat climb – 2.8km at 6.5 per cent – to win his second consecutive stage and move into the overall lead. A couple of seconds later, Van Avermaet, who will line up at the ‘opening weekend’ – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne – in Belgium in early March, was pipped to the line by Jesús Herrada (Cofidis).
However he was far from disappointed.
"I’m super happy for myself that I’m in good form. I couldn’t win but on this finish, when you see how Lutsenko is riding at the moment, that’s a good third place," Van Avermaet said after a warm-down loop beyond the finish line.
The day wasn’t all about the final climb, however. Unlike when this finish was used two years ago – Soren Kragh Andersen was the winner that day – Monday’s stage featured two ascents of the Qurayyat climb. Moreover, crosswinds were blowing, sparking a frenetic final 60km of racing.
Van Avermaet made the first split, and went clear on the first ascent in a small group with Lutsenko. The race came mostly back together after the descent, but it split again and Van Avermaet found himself in a lead group of 35 that hit the final climb together.
"There was just a crosswind section before the climb and I was a little by myself. I almost missed it, because I was a bit far back because I was not expecting it. I did a big effort; actually, to really come to the first group, then it was 30 minutes almost on my limit.
"Afterwards, I could recover a bit to do the last climb, so it was not the best positioning for me but it was probably one of the best training [sessions] I could do and I’m pretty happy with how it went."
Van Avermaet looked strong as the group thinned on the short climb. Lutsenko, however, the more natural climber, was stronger, and was convincing when he made his move for the line.
"On the first time up the climb he did it on his own, with everyone struggling in the wheel,” Van Avermaet noted. "Then the last time, the way he wins, he’s quite hard to beat."
Solid team support
Aside from his individual form, Van Avermaet took heart from the performances of his teammates. He has a new-look entourage in the orange of CCC Team, many of the 2018 BMC Racing roster having left over the winter. He has used his opening races here and in Valencia to gel with his new group for the Classics.
He was accompanied by three of them when the race first split – Lukasz Wizniowski, Guilaume Van Keirsbulck, and Kamil Gradek – and by all six when it split again ahead of the final climb.
"For me, the most important thing is that the team is riding well together," Van Avermaet said.
"In the echelons there we had four in the first group, and I think this is just an indication that everyone is in good form and think that’s the most important thing for me."