Before the Volta ao Algarve peloton left Portimão for the opening stage on Wednesday, Sam Oomen confessed that he didn’t know quite what to expect from his stint in Portugal. The 23-year-old Dutchman finished an impressive ninth at the 2018 Giro d'Italia but the five-day event is his first outing of 2019 and he views himself as a rider who needs to race his way into a new season.
As he warmed down on the turbo trainer outside the Team Sunweb bus atop the Alto da Fóia on Thursday afternoon, Oomen acknowledged that his first major competitive effort of the campaign had been a promising one, even though he admitted to frustration at missing out on victory on stage 2.
Oomen was among the handful of riders to withstand Team Sky’s pressure on the 8km climb to the finish but was unable to match the acceleration of stage winner Tadej Pogar (UAE Team Emirates) in the closing metres and had to settle for fourth place, five seconds down on the Slovenian, and just behind Wout Poels (Team Sky) and Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
“The season is still long, but I can definitely say that my winter hasn’t been bad," Oomen told Cyclingnews.
"I can be pretty satisfied with my legs in the final, but when you’re so close to the win it’s always a small disappointment that you didn’t finish it off. I don’t know what else I could have done, you know. Sky was always pulling at such a high pace. They rode really smart and it’s really hard to attack them then."
Perhaps mindful that he would struggle to out-kick men like Poels and Mas in a shorter effort, Oomen opted to seize the initiative and hit the front when Amaro Antunes (CCC) attacked inside the final kilometre. Although he was unable to shake off his rivals, it was a notable statement of intent.
"I thought they gave Antunes some space, and De La Cruz was on the front, so I thought maybe if I attack now, you never know. But then they were on the wheel of course," Oomen said. "But it’s alright."
Thinking of the time trial
Oomen placed 13th on the corresponding stage a year ago as part of the sizeable leading group that contested the finish, won by Michal Kwiatkowski, whereas the Dutchman was one of just a half-dozen riders still in contention come the final kilometre on Wednesday. While a brisk headwind contributed to the larger front group last year, Oomen felt that the combined – and sustained – pace-making of Team Sky and Deceuninck-QuickStep on the rugged terrain through the Serra de Monchique was the root cause of the reduced numbers in the finale this time around.
“I think the race up front was a bit harder before the climb,” Oomen said. “From kilometre 123, it went up and down all the time and then on the plateau towards the second sprint, Sky and QuickStep set a really annoying pace, and I think that also made the race a little bit harder."
Oomen lies in fourth place overall ahead of Friday’s 20km time trial around Lagoa, just four seconds off the yellow jersey of the 20-year-old Pogacar. The Tilburg native looks poised to improve on his 13th place finish from last year, though he was cautious about his prospects. Despite his qualities as a rouleur, he struggled to find his rhythm on the same Lagoa course in last year’s Volta ao Algarve, when he conceded almost two minutes.
"I have to say that I don’t have such good memories from the time trial from last year, so we’ll just see how it goes," Oomen said.
"For me, time trialling always demands a lot of practicing and so my first TT of the year is never my best one. But then I can also say today was my kind of a surprise for my first race, so hopefully I will be surprised tomorrow as well."
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