Muscat: It is that time of the year when the top cyclists and the accompanying media from around the world descend on the Sultanate for the Tour of Oman, the annual sporting extravaganza that attracts the attention of the world media, leading to promotion of the country as an ideal sporting and tourism destination.
It will be no different this year too. In fact, if the organisers are to be believed the seventh edition of the six-stage Tour which will be flagged off at Oman International Exhibition Centre on Tuesday will be more exciting and will have more media coverage than the previous editions.
“The 2016 Tour of Oman will definitely be more exciting than last year,” Eddy Merckx, one of the organisers of the Muscat Municipality-organised Tour, said.
The Belgian legend, who boasts of five Tour de France titles, addressing the media at Hormuz Grand on Monday said: “Obviously there will be a few changes to the stages which will make it more interesting.”
“All six stages are unique and they are interesting because there is something for every kind of rider, from flat stretches to winding roads to mountain climbs,” he said.
“As we all know the Jebel Akhdhar stage is very special. But it will be more interesting this time around with the climb extended by more than one more kilometre,” he said.
“What is more interesting is the quality of the riders the Tour of Oman has attracted this year,” Merckx added.
“We are going to see in action a very good bunch of young riders who will be part of an impressive field of riders comprising 18 teams.
“There will be five national champions from countries like Austria, Germany, Luxemburg, France and Belgium, all whom will be vying for top honours,” he said.
The field includes renowned riders from Classic and Grand Tours as well as well-known spinters. But to mention just a few, the major attractions are Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana teammate Andrea Guardini, Richie Porte of BMC, Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin and Dan Martin of Etixx-QuickStep.
Asked whether all the riders, especially those who took part in the last year’s Tour, were interested in participating in this year’s edition, he said: “Yes. Without doubt.”
When his attention was drawn to the fifth stage of the 2015 Tour, when the riders refused to continue the Bausher to Al Amerat climb due to extreme weather conditions which ultimately led to the organisers cancelling the stage, Merckx said: “It was a mistake to start at the foot of the hill in those conditions. But I don’t see any such problems this time around, especially with the temperatures expected to be around 28 degree Celsius.
“But if you ask me if all the riders from the last edition will be here this time, I should say it is their choice.
“But we also have to respect their choice. With Tour de France (July 2-24) and Rio Olympic Games (August 5-21) coming in quick succession, some of them may prefer to skip some events,” he added.
Asked how he rates Tour of Oman compared to the other top races of the world, Merckx said: “Obviously we cannot compare Tour of Oman with the Tour de France or Tour of Italy. But if we talk about other competitions, Tour of Oman will be right up there with the others.”
Salim bin Mubarak Al Hassani, Muscat Municipality’s Committee Member for Sports Events and Tour of Oman, briefed the media about the stages of this year’s race which will see the riders covering a total of distance of 911 kms during six days of action.
Tuesday’s first stage, scheduled to start Oman International Exhibition Centre and conclude at Al Bustan, will be of 145.5 kms.
The 162-km second stage will take place on Wednesday starting at Omantel Head Office and concluding in Quriyat. On Thursday, the riders will cover a distance of 176.5km in third stage from Al Sawadi beach to Naseem Park.
Friday’s much-looked forward to fourth stage will be of 177kms from Knowledge Oasis Muscat to Jebel Al Akhdar.
On Saturday, the peloton will cover 119.5 kms from Yetti near Al Sifah to Ministry of Toursim.
The sixth and final stage on Sunday will start at The Wave, Muscat and will see the riders covering a distance of 130.5kms upto Muttrach Corniche.
The organisers, meanwhile, revealed that the Tour of Oman will have more media coverage than the previous editions as more and more media organisations have shown interest in the event.
The organisers are expecting about 189 TV channels to broadcast the event while there 26 minute daily highlights and 10 minute news capsules.
“There is also tremendous interest shown by new media, like new websites and social media outlets. That means there will be more exposure for not just Tour of Oman cycling event but Oman as a nation,” the organisers said.
Positive on Tour future
Doubts remain over Tour of Oman future but chief organiser Eddy Merckx is optimistic of a contract extension with the Muscat Municipality to organise the annual cycling race for a further period of three years.
Belgian legend Merckx, who conducts the race in association with Amaury Sport Organisation, said he is hopeful of Tour of Oman continuing for another three years and beyond. Asked whether the signs are positive, he said with a smile: “You have to check with the Muscat Municipality and Oman.”
On a serious note, Merckx added: “I am, of course, positive. So are the Ministry
“They are happy with the mileage the country is getting through the Tour of Oman.”
He, however, insisted the final decision rests with the Muscat Municipality and local government.
Meanwhile, Salim bin Mubarak Al Hassani, Committee Member for Sport Events and Tour of Oman, said: “It all depends on the success of 2016 edition. The government will take a decision after the race.”
“There will be an announcement after this race,” he added.
Bank Muscat support
Meanwhile, Bank Muscat, the flagship financial services provider in the Sultanate, has extended lead support to Tour of Oman, which is set to witness a star studded line-up of international cyclists.
In step with the ‘Let’s Do More’ vision, the bank’s support to Tour of Oman comes as part of its commitment to partnership in promoting the Sultanate as a tourism and sporting destination. Over the years, Bank Muscat has extended strong support in making the Tour of Oman a great success. The bank aims to utilise the opportunity to fulfill its commitment to national initiatives, uniting citizens, residents and visitors in sharing the good times and discovering the joy of being connected, a statement from the bank said.
As the nation’s leading financial institution, Bank Muscat aims to strongly convey the message of support to varied sporting activities so as to encourage healthy lifestyle and provide the required impetus for the country to excel in sports and games.
In the 5th edition of Tour of Oman, Bank Muscat headquarters was the starting point of the 3rd stage of the event. Over the years, Tour of Oman has significantly grown in stature and the hosting of the international sporting event reflects the Sultanate’s remarkable organisational capabilities.