The second act of early season racing in the Middle East continues with the six-day Tour of Oman, with the stage 4 mountain finish on Green Mountain expected to decide the final overall race winner.
The inclusion of the summit finish has attracted some of the best stage racers in the world and will see several teams swap out riders who were in the thick of the action at the Tour of Qatar.
Once Paris-Nice was traditionally the first showdown between the Grand Tour contenders. This year, Oman will host that first face-to-face, with Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) all set to lead strong teams.
2012 winner Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) will be back to defend his title and chase another red race leader's jersey. He will be joined by Tom Boonen as he looks to get his early season back on track after illness delayed his debut in Argentina and Qatar. Other big-name riders on the start list include Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge).
Doing things differently to most squads, Team Sky will have a totally fresh line-up for Oman, with Dario Cataldo, Joe Dombrowski, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees and Richie Porte all starting their season alongside Froome and Wiggins.
The racing begins on Monday February 11 with a 162km stage from Al Musannah to Sultan Qaboos University. It includes a climb mid-stage but is expected to end in a sprint. Stage 2 to Al Bustan includes two late climbs that will split the peloton but the real climbing is on stage 4 to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain).
A time trial has played a key in deciding the inner in the past but the final two stages are both road stage to Muscat and so will give the sprinters more chances to shine. However stage 5 includes three saw tooth like climbs in the final 50km and then a hair-raising 13km decent to the finish.
The Tour of Oman wraps up on Saturday, February 16 with a 144km flat stage that ends with three laps of the spectacular Matrah Corniche in the centre of Muscat.