Muscat: There is an ambience of a return to business in Oman, despite the summer temperatures that will welcome the riders between February 16 and 21.
At this stage of the season, nobody has yet attached their first race numbers nor worn their new jersey in a competitive context for those who have changed team. Be that as it may, the reflexes are still a bit rusty but the winter preparation is well and truly over.
It is time to get to the heart of the matter, namely direct confrontation between rivals who will be battling to be the best throughout the year.
On the Tour of Oman, the struggle will see all types of riders involved, whether they are more inclined to shining on the spring classics, specialists of stage wins on grand tours or pretenders for general classification triumphs on week-long races, or longer.
The Tour of Oman, appreciated for its alternation between flat and hilly finishes, will put the cream of the sprinting clan in the spotlight from the first stage on the Sohar Corniche and without a doubt at the end of the race on the Muttrah Corniche.
These seaside finishes should give rise to tough clashes between Nacer Bouhanni, André Greipel, Bryan Coquard and Sonny Colbrelli. However, the riders will have to display a different type of power on the undulating routes leading to Al Bustan (stage 2) and Qurayyat (stage 3). Alexander Kristoff, who boasts the most stage wins in Oman with 8 victories in 9 participations, will be one of the men to watch, as will Greg van Avermaet, who will be looking to improve his roll of honour in preparation for his campaign in Flanders.
Nonetheless, the two favourites could be left in the wake of Gasparotto, Magnus Cort-Nielsen or, should the race take a slightly different turn, Niki Terpstra, Oliver Naesen or Nathan Haas. As is often the case, the “Green Mountain” is likely to be crucial in the battle for the title, the day before the race comes to its conclusion. The 5.7-km climb will be the steepest of the week (with an average gradient of 10.5%) and could be used as a springboard to triumph by a climber such as Domenico Pozzovivo, Mathias Frank or Jesus Herrada. However, the winning ticket might also go to the title holder Alexey Lutsenko if, like in last year’s success, he contents himself with keeping with the pace on this climber’s test. The main participants: Bahrain-Merida: Pozzovivo, Colbrelli (Ita), Belgium: Wanty-Gobert Cycling Team: De Clercq (Bel), Minaard (Nld), Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Capiot, Van Hecke (Bel), Wallonie Bruxelles: B. Planckaert, Dehaes (Bel)
France: AG2R La Mondiale: Frank, Dillier (Che), Naesen (Bel), Cofidis, Solutions crédits: Bouhanni (Fra), Jes. Herrada (Esp), Direct Energie: Petit (Fra), Terpstra (Nld), Team Arkea-Samsic: B. Feillu (Fra), Greipel (Deu), Vital Concept-B&B Hotels: Coquard, Reza (Fra), Delko Marseille Provence: Moreno (Esp), Jones (Aus), Kazakhstan: Astana Pro Team: Lutsenko (Kaz), Cort-Nielsen (Dnk), Netherlands: Roompot-Charles: Lammertink, Van Poppel (Nld), Poland: CCCTeam: Van Avermaet, Van Keirsbulck (Bel)
South Africa: Team Dimension Data: Gasparotto (Ita), Slagter (Nld)
Spain: Euskadi Basque Country-Murias: Bizkarra, Aristi (Spa)
Switzerland: Team Katusha Alpecin: Haas (Aus), Boswell (Usa)
United Arab Emirates: UAE Team Emirates: Kristoff (Nor), Costa (Prt), Laengen (Nor)
USA: Rally UHC Cycling: Huffman, McNulty (Usa)