Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) came close to doubling up at the Tour of Oman on Sunday but, despite surviving the late climb of Al Jissah and winning the finish sprint from the group, the stage 1 winner had to settle for second place as Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) had already crossed the line alone. Consolation came courtesy of the bonus seconds that keep him in the red jersey as overall leader of the race.
The uphill drag of a finish suited Kristoff, but matters were complicated by Al Jissah - 1.4km at 9 per cent - which topped out 5km from the line and was followed by a fast descent into the final kilometre.
As the elastic between Kristoff and the rapidly-thinning main group started to fray on the steep incline, Lutsenko was leaving the bunch at the front end, heading over the top alone. The Kazakh rider was already sat up and celebrating when Kristoff was moving up through the watts.
"It was fast, and I was a bit dropped on the last section of the climb. I had maybe 25 metres to be in the group, and behind me I saw nobody so I was actually alone on the top," Kristoff told Cyclingnews.
"I just sat on my frame the whole downhill, going very fast through the corners, and I managed to come back to the group, but unfortunately there was a guy in front. I took the sprint but it was for second place.
"I think Lutsenko was the strongest. He deserved the win. To manage to attack in such a finale and stay away, he was very strong."
Kristoff, who opened his 2019 account on Saturday with a fast sprint on the Suhar Corniche, could take plenty of heart from his second place. As he recalled, he was completely dropped on Al Jissah 12 months ago, when the same finale was used for the corresponding stage of the 2018 edition.
This year he still lost contact, but was climbing well enough that the damage was repairable.
"There wasn't really anything else I could've done," he said. "I think I did the climb perfectly. It's just unfortunate there was one guy ahead. Maybe the bunch was not going so fast on the downhill because I came back alone, so maybe there they missed him but anyway for me it was good because I could come back."
As for the final sprint, with the final 100 metres pitching uphill, Kristoff could see the win was gone but went all-in for second place, beating Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) to the line, with other pre-stage favourites Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) further back.
"I won the sprint, but ok, it was not a super sprint," Kristoff said. "I barely managed to pass Gibbons, but I was really tired so I'm really happy I was the fastest in the group."
The uphill finish at Qurayyat on stage 3 (2.8km at 6.5 per cent) should take Kristoff out of the equation - he was over a minute down last year - but he'll have the chance to strike again on stage 4, which features three ascents of Al Jabal Street (3.4km at 8.8 per cent), but then a flat 20-kilometre run-in and another uphill drag to the line.
"It's similar to today but there's a longer run-in after the climb, so I have chance to come back, but depends how the other guys ride it," Kristoff said.