Muscat: At this point in the season, foundations must be solid. The leaders and their teammates put in the all-important training during the winter break, increased specific training sessions and for some returned to action. Now with the Tour of Oman, scheduled for February 14 to 19, come the first confrontations on the road that can give an idea of what is to come this year.
The Tour of Oman has become a favourite event where riders can build and specify their ambitions.
Around the capital city of Muscat, following the Gulf of Oman coastline to the west as well as the east or even through mountains and back-country areas, the roads of the Sultanate offer a variety that is welcome to classic stars and podium contenders of major tours. This early season race in Oman has become part of many riders’ calendar since 2010.
On the Muscat Corniche or Naseem Park, Tom Boonen and Alexander Kristoff could produce the first of many confrontations that will continue on just until Paris-Roubaix. They will probably defer to Olympic Champion Greg van Avermaet or Filippo Pozzato on the more difficult Al Bustan and Quriyat arrivals.
The climbers will come into focus on the now traditional Jabal Al Akdhar stage, where the mountain specialists will have their opportunity to race for the overall win.
Runner-up on the 2016 Tour de France, Romain Bardet will be the rider to beat. On the 5.7km final climb, he will have the opportunity to both test his 2017 legs, but also the cohesion with his new Swiss teammate, Mathias Frank.
The leader of the AG2R squad will face strong opposition, especially from the defending champions Astana, with Fabio Aru and Jakob Fuglsang.
Promising Bob Jungels, who will most likely concentrate on the white jersey that he won last year (6th), will also pose a threat, as will Portugal’s Rui Costa, who has already ridden strong on Green Mountain (6th in 2015 and 5th in 2016), Columbia’s Janier Acevedo and Julian Arredondo.
French hopeful, Guillaume Martin, will be out to show that the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team is holding its place among cycling’s elite.
18 teams: Main contenders
Dimension Data: Reguigui (Alg), Sbaragli (Ita)
Team Sunweb: Sinkeldam (Ned)
Bahrain-Merida: Visconti (Ita), Insausti (Esp)
Quick-Step Floors: Boonen (Bel), Jungels (Lux), Capecchi (Ita)
Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Napolitano (Ita), G.Martin (Fra)
Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Van Hecke (Bel)
WB Veranclassic Aquality Protect: Pardini (Bel), Spengler (Che)
United Arab Emirates
UAE Abu Dhabi: Costa (Por), Modolo (Ita)
BMC Racing Team: Van Avermaet (Bel), Elmiger (Che)
United Healthcare: Acevedo (Col)
AG2R La Mondiale: Bardet, Gougeard (Fra), Frank (Che)
Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Diaz (Arg), Hupond (Fra)
Aqua Blue Sport: Blythe (Gbr), Denifl (Aut)
Wilier Triestina: Pozzato (Ita)
Nippo-Vini Fantini: Arredondo (Col), Santaromita (Ita)
Astana Pro Team: Aru (Ita), Fuglsang (Den), Kangert (Est), Lutsenko (Kaz)
CCC Sprandi Polkowice: Kurek (Pol)
Team Katusha Alpecin: Kristoff (Nor), Taaramae (Est)