Peter Velits continued Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s remarkable beginning to the 2012 season by taking overall victory at the Tour of Oman after holding off the challenge of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the final stage to Matrah Corniche on Sunday.
Velits had taken hold of the leader’s red jersey by one second the previous day on the unforgiving slopes of Jabal Al Akhdhar, but his tenuous grip risked being loosened completely at the first intermediate sprint on stage 6 when Nibali was incorrectly adjudged to have picked up a two-second bonus by taking second place at the first sprint.
Several kilometres passed before the commissaires reviewed the pictures and realised that they had mistaken Nibali for his teammate Peter Sagan, and Velits could breathe a little more easily.
“The one second lead was not enough,” a relieved Velits explained before climbing onto the podium. “It was quite tense before the sprint and even more so after the sprint when we didn’t know what was happening.”
Omega Pharma-QuickStep controlled affairs from there on in to seal the win for Velits, the twelfth triumph of the year for the team. After a trying campaign last year, the addition of a co-sponsor and slew of new riders has heralded something of a renaissance for the squad.
Velits himself was part of a platoon of riders who joined from the now-defunct HTC-Highroad outfit, but he believes the team’s overhaul has had a motivating effect on all concerned. The Slovak joins Levi Leipheimer, Andy Fenn, Tom Boonen, Francesco Chicchi and Gerald Ciolek on the squad’s list of winners to date.
“The change for the team was really big and a lot of things changed,” he said. “The guys who were former Quick Step riders were very motivated and worked really hard over the winter. Now it brings the results. I don’t think it’s a big surprise.
“The team is strong and it’s always been strong. Maybe they just missed a bit of motivation, a little bit of luck. But now with more and more victories, everybody is more and more confident and the team is working really well together.”
While Tom Boonen’s classics campaign remains one of the centrepieces of the team’s season, Velits believes the addition of stage racers such as Levi Leipheimer, Tony Martin and himself has widened a hitherto one-dimensional repertoire.
“There are still a lot of races we can win, the classics are coming up and Tom will be very motivated there, but now we’ve also shown that we can be competitive in the stage races so we have more options now,” Velits said.
Like Nibali, whose win at Jabal Al Akhdar on Saturday was his first since the 2010 Vuelta a España, Velits had not triumphed since taking the final time trial of that same race en route to third place overall in Madrid. Understandably, his morale will be high as his thought to turn to the main objective of his spring, Tirreno-Adriatico.
“It’s quite early to say what’s going to happen on Tirreno, but with I’m quite happy with my form now,” Velits said.
Beyond that, Velits has one eye on July and the Tour de France, where he will form a solid trident with Leipheimer and Tony Martin. “I want to try to be as good as possible on GC, but it’s early to say,” he said. “We have good guys on the team and we can go to the race with a lot of options, but it’s early to talk about the Tour.”