This time, there was no danger of taking the wrong direction. Bob Jungels was denied a stage win at the recent Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana when he followed a race motorbike down a diversion in the finale, but careful reconnaissance would pay rich dividends for the Luxembourg champion on the opening stage of the Tour of Oman in Al Bustan.
The finale featured the stiff climb of Al Jissah just five kilometres from the line, though on a training ride with his Etixx-QuickStep teammates on Monday, Jungels’ eye was drawn more to the rapid, sweeping descent that followed. On returning to the race hotel, he made it his business to seek out a mechanic and request a 55-tooth chainring.
After first BMC and then Astana splintered the peloton on the final climb on Tuesday, Jungels shifted into the big ring on the way down and simply took flight, coming home six seconds clear of Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) and a further two ahead of a rather elite chasing group to claim stage honours and the first leader’s jersey of the race.
“We did the recon yesterday and I felt that I had good legs up here. It’s a climb that suits me as well, it’s not too steep and Astana set a good pace,” Jungels said as he waited for the podium ceremony to begin. “For the downhill, I told the mechanics to put a 55-tooth on the front because I planned this attack for two days, even longer. I’m happy with it.
“I knew that the legs were good. I saw it in Valencia last week actually but I missed the road a little bit there, but it was a similar style of race today.”
Jungels’ teammate Dan Martin was part of the 16-man leading group that formed over the top of Al Jissah, and he had a ringside seat for his companion’s attack. He shook his head at the memory of Jungels’ daring attack as he soft-pedalled over the brow of the finishing hill towards his team car.
“He’s crazy, he’s really crazy,” Martin grinned. “He planned to do that and he pulled it off. He’s such a talented kid. He’s so young, but he’s got the confidence to say this morning ‘I’m going to try and win.’”
Arriving at Etixx-QuickStep
Jungels, like Martin, was a new arrival at Etixx-QuickStep this spring, and together they will form an interesting triumvirate in the Ardennes Classics with Julian Alaphilippe. Still only 23 years of age, Jungels was flagged as the coming man throughout his three-year apprenticeship in the Trek Factory Racing set-up, and will hope to deliver more emphatically on his considerable potential on his new squad.
“I think the style of riding suits me better, to be more aggressive in the race,” Jungels said of his early impressions of the differences between life at Trek and at QuickStep.
“But maybe I was also less confident myself. I have more confidence this year, although I don’t know if it comes from the team or if it’s just a feeling because I’m growing and getting stronger. I always had my freedom at Trek as well. Maybe it was more a team for GC so it’s just different here.”
Scarcely a month into the season, Etixx-QuickStep have already clocked up nine victories, and Jungels has followed his fellow new arrivals Martin and Marcel Kittel by getting off the mark early. He laughed off the idea that he already felt under pressure to get in on the winning act.
“For us the most important is that we have a reason to celebrate at night, so it doesn’t matter if I win or if somebody else wins,” Jungels said. “Almost all of the new riders on the team have won a race now and that’s a pretty good sign. And of course it’s always nice to confirm that they didn’t sign you for nothing.”
Jungels climbed well enough to finish sixth overall at last year’s Tour de Suisse, but downplayed the prospect of battling for final victory in Oman this week, pointing instead to Dan Martin as a more likely candidate from the Etixx-QuickStep ranks.
“My objective was to win a stage, or at least be close, so I’ve done that now,” Jungels said. “Maybe already tomorrow it’s going to be hard to defend it but I will do my best. We have Dan Martin who could be really good on Green Mountain later in the week, he’s better for the longer, steeper climbs. We’ll try to hold the jersey as long as we can.”
For his part, Martin was quietly pleased to have withstood the searing pace on the final haul up Al Jissah. “I’ve got a niggling cough going on at the moment so the lungs are hurting a bit today,” he said. “But if I could stay up there on that climb, then hopefully it’s going to get better as the week goes on.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.