Today the Tour of Oman kicked off its sixth edition with a rolling romp through the Sultanate of Oman on the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula. And if you tried hard enough, you might have seen the last four seconds of the finishing sprint. Not live, of course, but hey.
Backing up... Oman is a nice enough place for a bike race. Cyclists love warm weather, particularly dry warm weather, this time of year, because the easiest way to screw up your spring (now that "grabbing Abdujaparov's wheel" is no longer an option) is to put in too many long hours across the cold, damp roads of northern Europe. Every bout with the flu is a week lost to your preparation time, and nobody aiming for Flemish glory has a week to spare anymore. Apart from the climate, it's a peaceful, relatively wealthy place with a moderate bent to its religion and politics, possibly because Sultan Qaboos rules the place without question. He must be a decent guy, because if I had that level of power, I'm sure I would think of all sorts of arbitrary ways to use it. Anyway, it's a well-regarded place by its neighbors in the Muslim world as well as Europe. And it has real hills. So yeah, hold a major bike race there.
Enter ASO, the Tour de France-owning corporation, who began staging the race there in 2010. They've had some spirited editions, but the biggest question facing ASO in its operation of the race is a simple one... why no live TV? The race has responded with a pledge to show 20-plus minutes of recorded coverage, presumably on YouTube (and there appear to be some 25-minute blocks of video there, mislabeled as this year's race but probably being last year's). To call the Twitter reaction "bitter" is to call Boston's winter "sub-optimal" or Astana's ethical practices "not quite right." I don't understand the mechanics of live pictures, for a race where you are actually already generating a feed. Why not throw it on live somewhere? Maybe ASO knows a few broadcasters of cycling video who might be interested? Strange. But there you have it.
This Year's Race
Stage 1: Already happened. Bunch sprint. Results:
|1.||GUARDINI Andrea||6||ASTANA PRO TEAM||03h 45' 38''|
|2.||BOONEN Tom||91||ETIXX-QUICK STEP||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|3.||PELUCCHI Matteo||147||IAM CYCLING||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|4.||SINKELDAM Ramon||86||TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|5.||KRISTOFF Alexander||35||TEAM KATUSHA||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|6.||BOUHANNI Nacer||101||COFIDIS, SOLUTIONS CREDITS||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|7.||SAGAN Peter||21||TINKOFF-SAXO||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|8.||BENNETT Sam||161||BORA-ARGON 18||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|9.||MODOLO Sacha||114||LAMPRE - MERIDA||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
|10.||DEMARE Arnaud||55||FDJ||03h 45' 38''||+ 00' 00''|
Stage 2: Al Hazm Castle - Al Bustan
Looks like a flat finish, albeit with a few climby wrinkles toward the end which could separate the pure bunch sprinter types from the more classics-ready powerhouses. Given Boonen's second place today, you have to like his chances... of losing to Sagan tomorrow.
Stage 3: Al Mussanah Sports City
A hellscape stage, mostly flat and seemingly exposed as it rolls across the flat desert near As Suwayq. By the time this stage is over, cycling fans may find themselves tweeting their gratitude to the race organization for not producing live video.
Stage 4: Sultan Qaboos Grande Mosque -- Jabal Al Akhdar
The race's biggest attraction is the MTF on Green Mountain. It's a tough day in the saddle, albeit mostly in the final hour.
On closer inspection:
Pretty serious stuff, considering the heat and the length of the stage. The roll of honor on this stage includes Chris Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez, Vincenzo Nibali and Robert Gesink. It's been the key stage every year except the inaugural edition. It'll probably decide this one. Twitter criticism of the lack of video will hit DEFCON 1 no sooner than the 100km to go mark.
Stage 5: Al Sawadi Beach -- Ministry of Housing
There's a small climb in the finishing circuits called the Bousher al Amerat, which in its past two editions has been disruptive, albeit to a limited extent. The bunch finishers are screwed, and an elite gruppetto will probably finish this stage off, but predicting who is involved or what difference it makes for the overall title is pointless. In other words... a fun stage!
Stage 6: Oman Air -- Matrah Corniche
If there's a Corniche, or ledge, around, it doesn't seem likely to interrupt the final parade to a bunch finish.
OK, So Who Do I Care About?
Defending double-champion Froome isn't here, and the Tour de France contenders who are (e.g. Nibali) aren't likely to show too much. I think of this race as benefitting anyone with a design on the classics... which makes me think maybe I shouldn't write off Nibali too quickly. He's a fighter. CyclingNews thinks he's coming here to win. We shall see.
But more obvious choices would be Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez. Both Spaniards are known to come out flying early on, and Oman would be a nice feather in either's cap. Tejan van Garderen and Rigoberto Uran were on last year's podium, and that's evidence they'll mean business this time too. Maybe Rafal Majka. Stage hunters will come in many shapes and sizes, from the Thibault Pinot and Warren Barguil category to Sagan and Boonen to Nacer Bouhanni, Guardini, and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
OK... pretty soon I'll be ending these previews by asking who ya got.