The first edition of the Tour of Oman was a voyage of discovery for the riders, organisers and especially the curious Oman people, who had never seen professional cycling before.
Despite some difficulties, the race was a success and added yet another country to racing calendar. This year's second edition looks set to be an even bigger event and a better race, with a more testing route and a high quality field that includes both world champions Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd.
Other high profile names also stand out on the team list, as riders opt to work on their early season form in the warm sun of the Arabian Peninsula instead of Spain, France or Portugal. Even Mark Cavendish has opted to ride the Tour of Oman, despite his crash in Qatar, rather than return to the colder conditions of Europe.
Big name roster
This year's Tour of Oman lasts six days between Tuesday February 15 and Sunday February 20 for a total of 838.5km. 16 teams of eight riders fill the roster for a total of 128 riders.
Most teams are the same as those seen at the Tour of Qatar. However some teams have made strategic changes that could prove to be decisive. Robert Gesink has arrived for Rabobank, Team Sky has brought in Edvald Boasson Hagen and HTC-Highroad will have Marco Pinotti for a shot at overall success.
Hushovd will make his season debut in his Garmin-Cervelo rainbow jersey after illness forced him to miss the Challenge Mallorca, and Taylor Phinney will make his full professional debut in Oman with BMC.
Other stand out names on the roster include Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Daniele Bennati, Stuart O'Grady (Leopard Trek), Boasson Hagen, Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) and Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli).
The final start list will be confirmed on Monday.
Six days of racing
While the Tour of Qatar is dominated by the sprinters, race organiser Eddy Merckx and technical organisers ASO have decided to toughen up the route in Oman, while also reducing the length of transfers to keep the riders happy.
There are still stages for the sprinters early on and the desert winds could also be a factor. However the steep uphill finish on Jabal al Akhdhar on stage four and then the 18.5km stage five time trial will surely decide the overall winner.
Last year Fabian Cancellara limited his losses and then secured victory in the final time trial. He was beaten by Edvald Boasson Hagen on the hilly course but won overall, beating the talented Norwegian by 28 seconds, with Cameron Meyer third at the same time.
All three are back in Oman this year for a rematch and it will be interesting to see how the race unfolds on the tougher course.
The riders arrived from Qatar late on Saturday night and have two days to rest up for that race before the Tour of Oman begins on Tuesday with a 159km stage from as Sawadi to Al Seeb on the coast near the capital Muscat. The stage is largely flat and so a bunch sprint is highly likely to decide the first winner and first leader of this year's race.
From stage two on wards the difficulties increase day by day and the final winner will not be decided by time bonuses and sprint placings.
Stage three starts and finishes in Sur but the 208km of racing includes a long stretch along the Arabian Sea before heading through the hills and back to Sur.
If that does not split the peloton, then the uphill finish to Jabal al Akhdhar (Green Mountain) on stage four surely will. The finish is at an altitude of 1235 metres but the climbing is packed into just 5.8km at an average of 10.8%. However even those statistics don't tell the full story of the climb. The first and fourth kilometres climb at just six percent, meaning the remaining average is a leg-breaking 13.5%.
It is a finish for pure climbers like Robert Gesink (Rabobank), but it will also see a battle to gain precious seconds before the following day's time trial, creating a kind of handicap classification for the 18.5km.
Whoever handles the uphill finish and the rolling out and back time trial course will pull on the red race winner's jersey for the final stage that finishes with several laps along the Mattrah Seafront.
Cyclingnews will have race reports, news, photo galleries and video coverage of all the action.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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