Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept-B&B Hotels) came close to taking his second win in as many stage races in 2019, surging past Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) but unable to squeeze ahead of Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) on the opening stage of the Tour of Oman.
The Frenchman, who endured a difficult first campaign with Vital Concept in 2018 following his acrimonious split from Direct Energie, had already won on the opening day of the Etoile de Bessèges.
The finishing stretch on the Suhar Corniche ran arrow-straight for 1,300 metres, but a technical section just before that saw Coquard have to fight back and perhaps sap his legs for the final sprint.
"There were riders who mis-stepped in front of me and Kris Boeckmans with two kilometres to go, at the start of the series of bends, so we lost some places. We tried to come back but maybe it was a bit late," Coquard said at the finish.
"I was very far back ahead of the final kilometre. Kris did a really good job of getting me back up the front. I was in and around the first positions with 300 metres to go and I was able to get on the wheel of Nacer, but unfortunately not that of Alexander Kristoff, and I was only able to get second."
Coquard explained that it can be hard to adjust to the style of racing in the Middle East. The Tour of Oman is the one that has the fewest pan-flat highway stages, but that's exactly what was served up on Friday's run down the coast.
"It's very different to Europe because all day it's a bit monotonous, and the only real intensity comes in the finale. It's difficult when you spend the whole day chilled out then suddenly you have to go really hard at the end."
Coquard has said he is more serene and feels more confident in himself, having learnt from his mistakes and the surplus of pressure he put on himself in 2018. A win over the quality sprinting field in Oman would only enhance his prospects for his most important targets of the season.
The other clear-cut sprint opportunity in Oman comes on the Matrah Corniche on the final day, though stage 4 should also end in a bunch gallop and the slightly uphill drag to the line may suit the lightweight Coquard. Coming up now are two stages for the puncheurs, though there's a chance a sprinter who can climb will be able to survive Sunday's light climb and fight for the win in Al Bustan.
"I can't say yes or no, but I'm going to give it everything," said Coquard.
"There's the heat, which I struggle with, on top of the difficulty of the parcours. I'll give it everything, and at the very least it will be a few good days of training. We also have Quentin Pacher and Patrick Muller who can do something on the hillier stages, so let's see what we can do."
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