Nibali, Porte and Dumoulin confirmed for Tour of Oman

Vincenzo Nibali, Richie Porte, Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet have been confirmed as the marquee names at this year’s Tour of Oman, which takes place from February 16 to 21.

Nibali began his 2016 season at the Tour de San Luis last week, where he placed 14th overall, and the Astana man will continue his build-up to the Giro d’Italia by competing at the Tour of Oman for the fifth successive season. His best outing came on his debut in 2012, when he claimed a stage victory atop Green Mountain and took second overall behind Peter Velits.

Porte will surely line out as one of the favourites for overall victory in Oman after he claimed victory atop Willunga Hill for the third successive season at the Tour Down Under at the weekend. The Australian is in his first campaign at BMC, and is likely to have Classics leader Greg Van Avermaet in the team with him in Oman.

For Dumoulin, the Tour of Oman is scheduled to be his first race of the new season, though it remains to be seen who will accompany him in the Giant-Alpecin team after six of the squad’s riders were injured a training crash at the weekend. The 2016 Olympic Games time trial in Rio and the Giro d’Italia will be the focal points of Dumoulin’s season, but the Dutchman is targeting success in week-long stages races along the way.

Bardet will start France’s traditional season-opener, the Grand Prix de la Marseillaise, on Sunday, but his build-up to the Ardennes Classics and Tour de France will begin in earnest in Oman, where he will likely be flanked by Domenico Pozzovivo in the Ag2r-La Mondiale line-up.

The race organisers have yet to publish a provisional start list or confirm any riders beyond Nibali, Porte, Dumoulin and Bardet, but other big names slated to participate in Oman include Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Etixx-QuickStep’s new arrivals Dan Martin and Bob Jungels, and former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida).

The route of this year’s Tour of Oman will be slightly more demanding than in recent seasons, according to ASO. The traditional summit finish atop Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain), this time on stage 4, has been extended, bringing the total length of the ascent to 7.5 kilometres.

Stage 2 to Quriyat will also feature a stiff 2.8-kilometre climb in the finale that could prove an important rendezvous in the fight for final overall victory. The race concludes with an opportunity for the sprinters on Muttrah Corniche.

Last year’s Tour of Oman was characterised by soaring temperatures and sandstorm on stage 5 that saw the riders seek – and eventually obtain – the cancellation of the penultimate stage due to the dangerous conditions. The race was won by Rafael Valls.

A report in the Times of Oman earlier this month suggested that the seventh edition of the Tour of Oman might also prove to the last. Habib Al Zawawi, supervisor of sports of events at Muscat Municipality, said that no decision had been made on the future of the race as yet. “There will be negotiations during the tour. By the end of tour we will come to know. There will be official announcement about it,” he told the newspaper.

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