Another year, another Tour of Oman title for Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), though this time he was utterly dominant, winning three of the six stages along the way. Lutsenko didn't win much else in 2018 but there's a sense that the 26-year-old might be on the verge of building a big palmarès, with stage races and Classics both on his agenda.
Every rider in Oman was happy to admit Lutsenko was head and shoulders above the rest, as he helped himself to victories on the two punchy stages and then on Green Mountain to seal the title. Cofidis directeur sportif Roberto Damiani likened him to 1986 world champion Moreno Argentin.
"I'm not surprised," Lutsenko told Cyclingnews of his dominance. "I did a lot of work in Tenerife at altitude before this. Now I'm more skinny. I'm two kilograms lighter.
"That gives me more motivation for the important races like the Classics. It's a good start for my new season, the best I've had. Tomorrow I go back home to enjoy a few days with my family before going to Belgium. That's my plan for this week. After, I go to the Classics with good legs and good motivation.
Lutsenko will line up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next Saturday, where the form he has shown automatically makes him one of the favourites, having already shown his potential on the cobbles with a podium at the 2017 Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Yet, despite Astana coaches insisting he could win the bigger cobbled Classics like the Tour of Flanders, Lutsenko is skipping them in order to focus on the hillier Ardennes races this year.
"I really like Amstel Gold Race," he said, reminding that he won the U23 world title on the Cauberg – Amstel's iconic climb – in 2012. "I like this last steep climb in the Amstel Gold Race. That's my strong point. Also, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a good race for me, I think."
You can never be too good, but Lutsenko will have to make sure he's still at the height of his powers in two months' time, with Amstel Gold Race on April 21 and Liège on April 28.
"I think it won't be a problem," he said. "After Tirreno-Adriatico [March 13-19] I'll rest for three or four days then go again to altitude in Tenerife for more preparation for the Ardennes Classics."
Lutsenko will also race Strade Bianche on March 8, and there's another one-day race that stands out in his head, even seventh months away: "The World Championships in Yorkshire."
As for stage racing, the next big target is Tirreno-Adriatico, one of the most prestigious week-long stage races. Having now won twice in Oman, Lutsenko is expected to take a step forward in those races and to start challenging for the titles at the bigger WorldTour events.
"Tirreno is a good race for me," he said, having finished 15th last year. "There's not too much climbing, you have a time trial. For me it's perfect.
"I think one-week races, like Tirreno-Adriatico, like Paris-Nice, are good for me. Also last year, the Tour of Turkey went well."
"I'm not thinking about GC in Grand Tours, just maybe maximum one-week races. I prefer those races, you don't have the long mountains, more short climbs that suit me better."
Lars Michaelsen insists Lutsenko, at 26, is still developing and has a bright future ahead of him.
"He has proved two years in a row he can win the Tour of Oman, so short stage races, even with a time trial – we didn't have one here but he's also good at time trialling. So for sure, the one-week stage races are something he can aim for, also the type like BinckBank Tour," Michaelsen told Cyclingnews.
"For the one-day racing, it's still to be proven. The engine is there. You need other skills also, like fighting for position, but the engine is there."
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