Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) finished fourth overall at last year’s Tour of Oman, and on Sunday he propelled himself into the battle for the 2019 title with second place on the uphill finish in Qurayyat on stage 3.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) surged clear in the final 500 metres of the 2.8km climb to collect his second victory in as many days, but a second later Herrada hit the line ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and a heavily fragmented lead group.
Herrada, who won the opening race at the Challenge Mallorca at the end of January, sits second overall, 18 seconds behind Lutsenko and two seconds ahead of Van Avermaet.
"The stage was made hard by the wind and the echelons," Herrada, who was caught out ahead of the first of the two ascents of the Qurayyat climb, told Cyclingnews. "The team did a good job of helping me be as near the front as possible ahead of the final climb and in the end I was able to be in the first group and go for the stage win.
"I was only beaten by Lutsenko, who’s a cut above the rest at the moment. But to come home ahead of Van Avermaet in a sprint for the line like that, that shows I’m in very good form."
The race is now set to come down to the summit finish on Green Mountain on the penultimate stage on Wednesday, though he warned that Tuesday’s stage, with three climbs of Al Jabal Street in the second half of the parcours, could throw up some danger.
Herrada finished third last year on Green Mountain, which is relatively short, at 5.7km, but relentlessly steep, with an average gradient of 10.5 per cent.
"Tuesday could be an interesting stage, we’ll try to be as far up at the front as possible, and see if there are any seconds we can take. But on Green Mountain, that’s where the real fight will be," he said.
"Green Mountain is maybe just too steep for my liking – I prefer seven or eight per cent. But in the end, here the important thing is to have good legs, be in good form, and I am."
As for whether he sees Lutsenko as beatable: "The objective was to come here and fight for the victory, and as the days go by that’s still what we’re thinking about."