After two seasons off the calendar due to the death of the Sultan in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Tour of Oman kicks off Thursday, February 10, with seven WorldTour teams among the start list for its 11th edition.
The inaugural event consisted of five fairly flat stages and an individual time trial as the final stage, which ultimately decided who would take the overall classification. The winner of the 2010 race was Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) after he came second in the time trial to Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Team Sky).
In the last edition in 2019, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) won his second consecutive Tour of Oman in dominating fashion, winning three of the six stages. Second overall was Domenico Pozzovivo (then with Bahrain-Merida) and third going to Jesus Herrada (Cofidis).
Former world champions Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) are among the headline names at the race, which follows the route of the cancelled 2020 race and was brought together by organisers ASO and the Omani Cycling Federation in just the past month.
Cavendish, off the back of a comeback 2021 season which saw him win four stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France, is the premier name lining up in Oman. He'll have three sprint stages to go at this week, while friend and ex-teammate Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) will provide his main sprint challenge.
While Cavendish makes his 2022 bow in Oman, Gaviria returns to action following the Saudi Tour earlier this month. The Colombian didn't register a win there, however, so will be looking to get on the top step of the podium after third and fourth places in Saudi Arabia.
The duo are standout names in the sprint field in Oman, and on paper you would expect them to share the flat stages between them. However, racing rarely plays out as neatly as that, and a number of other fastmen will be looking to disrupt the narrative.
Arkéa-Samsic's Amaury Capiot is fresh from a first career victory at the GP La Marseillaise and will be hoping to add to his palmarès. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) was a late scratch from the start list, so the French squad could instead look to Continental team rider Paul Penhoët for the sprints.
Milan Menten (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauces-WB), Mikhel Raïm (Burgos-BH), Tord Gudmestad (Uno-X Pro Cycling), and Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco) should also be there or thereabouts in the flat finishes.
The GC men will have two uphill finishes to go at as well as a further hilly stage, while they'll also have to navigate any crosswind drama to come out on top. Costa, who was second at the 2017 race, is among the main GC favourites, though he'll face stiff competition from Italian climber Fausto Masnada (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), whose best stage race result last season was third in the Tour de Romandie.
Elie Gesbert will be looking to replicate the form which saw him win the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve last year – the Frenchman is Arkéa-Samsic's main hope. Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux come with Rein Taaramäe, who led the Vuelta a España last year, and Jan Hirt as their GC leaders, while Dane Anthon Charmig looks to be the man for Norwegian team Uno-X Pro Cycling.
Elsewhere, keep an eye on Italians Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), and Davide Villella (Cofidis) on the climbs, as well as the versatile puncheur Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM).
- Stage 1 - February 10, Al Rustaq Fort to Muscat, 138km
- Stage 2 - February 11, Naseem Park to Suhar Cornichem, 167.5km
- Stage 3 - February 12, Sultan Qaboos University to Qurayyat, 180km
- Stage 4 - February 13, Al Sifah to Muscat Royal Opera, 119.5km
- Stage 5 - February 14, Samail to Jabal al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), 150.5km
- Stage 6 - February 15, Al Mouj Muscat to Matrah Corniche, 132.5km
The race starts on Thursday with a day for the sprinters as the riders head 138 kilometres from Al Rustaq Fort to a flat finish at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre in Muscat. There should be few obstacles to prevent a mass sprint, with the climb of Fanja (1km at 9.5 per cent) coming 48 kilometres from the line and providing the first KOM leader of the race.
Stage 2 could bring more action through the day despite it being an almost pan-flat run from start to finish. The 167.5km stage runs along the coastline from Naseem Park to Suhar Corniche with barely anything to speak about in the way of elevation. Crosswinds could come into play at any point during the day, though, something for which the teams – including echelon specialists QuickStep-AlphaVinyl – should stay wary.
The third stage of the race is the first major challenge for the climbers and GC men, finishing at the hilltop finish of Qurayyat in Muscat. Three years ago, Lutsenko powered to victory on the 2.8km, 6.5 per cent climb, laying the base for his second straight overall victory.
A hill earlier in the day – Al Jabal Street (3.4km at 8.8 per cent) - will give KOM hopefuls a chance to add points to their classification totals, but otherwise there are no further classified climbs on the 180km race towards the uphill finish.
More hills await on stage 4 from Al Sifah to the Royal Opera House in Muscat as the peloton take on a 119.5km route with four classified climbs on the stage, including three times up Al Jabal Street – one at the 8.8 per cent road from the day before - and twice up the easier side (3.2km at 6.8 per cent).
The last of those ascents isn't classified, but at just 15 kilometres from the finish could provide an exciting end to the stage and more GC action. Earlier in the day, the climbs of Al Jissah and Al Wadi Al Kabir will likely see the break sweep up yet more KOM points.
Green Mountain lies in wait on stage 5, a 150.5km trek through the Al Hajar mountain range. It's the only classified climb on the day on what is a stage made up largely of rolling roads, but the climb should be a race decider. It measures in at just 5.7km but the 10.5 per cent average gradient is a brutal one, even more so given it's a February race. If there's one day to tune in to the Tour of Oman for, it's this one.
Finally, the race draws to a close on stage 6 with another chance for the sprinters to do battle. The 132.5km stage takes the peloton from Al Mouj Muscat to the Matrah Corniche and is another largely flat day. Two small climbs come midway through the day, though both are too far out to provoke any lasting splits that could affect the finish.
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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