While the main stories at the Tour of Oman concerned the sprint showdowns between Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates), as well as the GC showdowns at Qurayyat and Green Mountain, day by day the men in orange – the Basque squad of Euskaltel-Euskadi – made their presence felt.
Their man Peio Goikoetxea came away from the race with the combativity prize – a golden jersey among the red, green and white of Oman's flag – which combines both mountain and intermediate sprint competitions into one.
Having celebrated his 30th birthday during the race, on Valentine's Day, no less, Goikoetxea was delivered a belated present having secured the classification on the final day in Matrah Corniche. The win came after another day of aggressive riding from the team, which, while not a continuation of the famous Euskaltel-Euskadi of years past, certainly carries that same legacy of zealous attacking.
"It's a beautiful present for me, no?" Goikoetxea told Cyclingnews and derailleur after the finish of stage 6. "We worked all together, the team. We win together this year and we're very happy about this all week.
"Our goal here was to be aggressive. We are here to win the races and win stages. But what is important is for us to be aggressive. That's our philosophy and we're very happy with it."
Goikoetxea held the gold jersey from day one of the race, a largely quiet stage which saw him slip into the breakaway for the first time and pick up maximum points on the two intermediate sprints and sole climb.
On the second stage, his teammate Antonio Angulo did the same over two intermediate sprints, while stage 3 saw Goikoetxea add to his total before Julen Irizar and Angulo (twice more, including on the final stage) also went out in the break over the final half of the race.
While the ProTeam has not ascended to the heights of the former Euskaltel-Euskadi squad, which saw the likes of Haimar Zubeldia, Iban Mayo and Mikel Landa take starring roles on the biggest stages, Euskaltel-Euskadi 'Mk.II' are more than happy to channel the spirit of the old team.
"For me maybe it's the best moment of my career," Goikoetxea said. "I have 30 years – I'm old in the peloton – but this is my best moment, I think, and I hope that this continuing like this.
"All the years I worked for the team and now I'm the protagonist," he noted earlier in the race, stating a promise that the team would hold on to the jersey to the end. "For me it's new. This is very good days for me, and I've enjoyed it a lot."
Goikoetxea and the squad, which are almost totally drawn from the Basque Country or riders who have descended from Basques, admittedly found going tough in the hot weather of Oman this week, a stark contrast to the usual forecasts of his home region of Euskadi.
"These days have been the hardest," he said. "We're from the Basque Country so it's always raining. It's difficult.
"It's a difficult classification because you need the points in the mountains and the sprint. We were riding together, the whole team, with the same goal, for the jersey."
For Goikoetxea now, the goal will be to represent the de facto Basque national team at their home race, April's Itzulia Basque Country. The team will be there, while Goikoetxea – who has only been with them since 2018 having earlier raced at amateur levels with Ampo-Goierriko and Café Baqué – dreams of taking part.
"It's my dream. I live there, I train in this roads, and for me is like the best race in the world."
Peio GG did it! Combativity prize at the #TourofOman "For me its maybe the best moment of my career," he said after celebrating his 30th yesterday pic.twitter.com/h4YgdqsQzzFebruary 15, 2022
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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