Sonny Colbrelli, lapping up the applause on the podium after stage 4 of the Tour of Oman, described him as a ‘gentleman’, but Greg Van Avermaet was finding that being a nice guy was scant consolation for finishing last.
As they charged for the line on the false flat finishing straight, Van Avermaet led the way on the right-hand side of the road but left a gap to the barrier. Colbrelli, who gave warning, didn’t hesitate and punched through to take his and Bahrain-Merida’s first victory of the season.
“I have to thank Greg Van Avermaet, because he didn’t close me against the barriers. He was a gentleman,” Colbrelli said. “I told him ‘I’m coming right side, right side’, and it was perfect, so I have to say thanks to Greg.”
The thanks will mean little to Van Avermaet, who was left cursing himself for being “too honest”. The Olympic champion is not a pure sprinter and perhaps not as well versed in the dark arts of the dog-eat-dog world that is bunch sprinting.
“Normally, a sprinter closes in a guy who comes from the right. Colbrelli was out of the wind. I started the sprint quite early, and if I really go to the right, maybe he has to come around and it’s harder for him to come over, and maybe it’s a different story. I left too much of a gap open, I think. It’s just a bit sad, because if I hadn’t have done that it would’ve been better, but it is how it is.”
The 131km stage featured a largely flat final 20 kilometres, but before that were three ascents of Al Jabal Street, 3.4km with an average gradient of 6.8 per cent. CCC put Nathan Van Hooydonck in the breakaway to put pressure on other teams, before setting as high a pace as possible on the climbs in order to put the pure sprinters into difficulty. It worked, as Andre Greipel and Nacer Bouhanni were dropped and removed from contention.
“It’s a bit sad for me. It’s a big disappointment, because the team worked really hard, and I would’ve liked to finish it off with a win,” said Van Avermaet.
“We had a great plan with the team, to put someone in the break and make the race hard, and then hopefully drop some of the sprinters and have a bigger chance for me. In the end, there were still a lot of fast guys, but I think we made the race hard enough.
“We were the only team who had a plan, I think. We tried as good as possible, the guys did a big effort on the climb and I’m very proud of them. It would’ve been super nice to finish it off, but it is what it is.”
If there was any consolation, it was that second place provided further confirmation of his pre-Classics form, following third on the finishing climb in Qurayyat on stage 3, and a stage win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana before that.
“I’m super happy with how it’s going - especially uphill. I feel maybe a bit better [than last year] uphill, and that only gives me confidence for the next races,” Van Avermaet said.
“Second and third, it seems the condition is there, but I prefer to win one time instead of having these results on the podium.”