Alexey Lutsenko still has one stage to race but the Astana rider has all but sealed overall victory at the Tour of Oman. The 25-year-old finished second on the race's queen stage to Green Mountain, after a dominant performance from Astana that saw his teammate Miguel Angel Lopez win the stage.
Lutsenko had started the day in second place at just nine seconds back, but had not been one of the pre-stage favourites to take the overall title with Lopez and Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) only a few seconds back. In a performance perhaps reminiscent of the 2015 Giro d'Italia, the Kazakh team put on a show of force to dwindle the peloton's ranks in one fell swoop on the final climb. Lutsenko impressed on the steep climb, finishing with Lopez.
"I am really happy because everything went okay but the main thing is that the team was really strong," Lutsenko said after collecting his red jersey.
"We knew that only this stage would decide the general classification so we were really motivated and the team was ready. We controlled the race from the start and the guys worked really hard.
"We still have three riders in front with two kilometres to go. It was also our plan to win the stage. In the last section I was alone with Miguel Angel Lopez and we did our best to get some time from our rivals and take this stage."
Lopez was a key component in helping Lutsenko to the line on a scorching day in the mountains, pacing him up to the top of the climb. The pair broke clear with around three kilometres to go, taking Izagirre and teammate Jan Hirt with them, despite an earlier crash from the Czech rider. Another dig was enough to see off the rest of their competition and, despite a late resurgence from Izagirre, they were not to be seen again by the chasers.
The pair high-fived as they crossed the line with Lopez taking out the victory, making it two stage wins for Astana after Magnus Cort sprinted to victory on day 4. Lutsenko said afterwards that it hadn't been a conscious decision to let Lopez win, but something that happened naturally.
"Everybody was really honest. I worked quite a lot in the last kilometres and Miguel was stronger in the climb and especially in the final, he pulled quite a lot," explained Lutsenko. "He was just in front and we didn't really decide, it was automatic. Miguel took the victory and I just followed his wheel in the last kilometre.
"Honestly, it was a really nice moment when we went with three kilometres to go and we had nobody behind us, only Astana. This was the nicest moment. I am really happy and we have our general manager here and it was a big honour to win with him at the finish line. The win was really good and the win gives us lots of motivation for the next races. This is an amazing feeling."
There is still a stage remaining but with nothing even resembling a mountain on the road to the Muscat Corniche, Lutsenko must only remain on his bike during the 135.5km stage to be crowned the champion.
It has been a good week for Lutsenko, with third places on the punchy finishes of stage 2 and 3. He will ride the Giro d'Italia this season, but his first major target of the year will be the Classics at the end of this month.
"In a few days, I will go back home to Europe and then after a week I will take part in the first Belgian races with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. They will be the first big aim for my start in Europe. I will also do Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. It's a full programme," he said.
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