With the start of the Tour of Oman less than 24 hours away, most of the 128 riders in the race went for one last training ride on Monday, spending a couple of hours in the saddle in the late morning sun. Race organiser and legend of cycling, 65-year-old Eddy Merckx, also headed out for a spin.
Several teams have shuffled their line-up since the Tour of Qatar, bringing in overall contenders and climbers for the hillier six-day race, in the place of the sprinters and rouleur riders who raced at the Tour of Qatar.
Garmin-Cervelo has perhaps made the biggest change, with world champion Thor Hushovd, Christian Vande Velde and Cameron Meyer coming into their eight-man squad.
The Tour of Oman will be Hushovd's first race with Garmin-Cervelo after missing the Challenge Mallorca due to illness. The 33-year-old Norwegian has gone for a classic look on the bike, with his black shorts and clean looking world champion's jersey allowing the distinctive rainbow stripes to stand out. The only touches of the rainbow are on his white Cervelo S3 and on his Bont shoes.
Vande Velde looked fit but admitted he was a little worried about the gradient of the climb to the finish on Jabal al Akhdhar and the roller coaster profile of the 18.5km time trial.
Mark Cavendish made sure HTC-Highroad left on time for their ride and is confident he can challenge on the four possible sprint finishes. He was scheduled to return to Europe after Qatar but has stayed on for some extra racing as he looks for his first victory of the 2011 season. HTC-Highroad also has Matt Goss as a sprinting alternative and has brought in Marco Pinotti to target overall victory.
A special Specialized bike signaled that Astana team leader Alexandre Vinokourov had arrived in Oman and he could also be a contender. However, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) seems to be most people's tip for overall victory. The hugely talented Norwegian won two stages last year and if he has some early season form, he could pick up time bonuses in the sprint stages, defend his lead on the uphill finish to Jabal al Akhdhar and then seal victory in the hilly time trial.
Leopard Trek has brought in Jakob Fuglsang alongside Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady, while sprinter Daniele Bennati will also be hoping to win a sprint stage after going close several times in Qatar.
The Tour of Oman begins on Tuesday with a flat 158km stage from al Sawadi to al Seeb and so we could see Hushovd, Bennati, Cavendish and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) all contesting the expected sprint finish.
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