Haimar Zubeldia has never ridden the Tour of Oman, usually preferring the Ruta del Sol in his home country, but there is one important quality that he shares with the middle eastern race - both are almost impossible to view. Chris wrote a great piece about this three years ago, and...well, the situation hasn't changed. Last year I watched the Tour of Oman...by checking the twitter feed of exactly one person, an excellent cycling commentator who was there, he just wasn't able to do his usual job. To be quite honest, the race sounded great. We were kind of spoiled last February, with a race for every second between Contador and Froome in Spain, a race that was actually televised. But in Oman, we had Fabian Cancellara looking promising. That troublesome cobble he ran into in E3 must have been paying attention. We had a surprise winner, who only cost one point! We had Eddy Merckx looking agitated. And we all saw all of this in text and still format, on the internet. This has not changed, and will not change. In fact, Merckx may be getting even more agitated, as there are rumours this is its last edition.
My reaction this this is definitely not "good riddance," but rather more apathetic. It is a good race, and in my opinion has the best parcours of any race being run this week, but if people can't see it...will they really care if the riders racing it move to the races that are covered properly? I don't know. I don't really think so. It isn't a race that anyone loves.
Anyway, there is cycling going on there this week. Get your mouses at the ready, you might catch a glimpse of what's going on.
The previews are all different colours, which might not be intended specifically to annoy me, but it certainly could be, so that's what I'm going with.
Stage one is a quick jaunt to Al Bustan. There are two categorised climbs, the top of the final one peaking at just over five kilometres to go. That should keep the red leader's jersey off the shoulders of a sprinter. This stage's finish is almost identical to stage 2 last year, which spawned a host of attacks, leading to a Fabian Cancellara victory. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Greg Van Avermaet are my favourites for this stage.
Ah, the iconic locations of cycling. The Stelvio, Alpe d'Huez...Omantel Head Office...it doesn't get any better than this. Joking apart, this stage looks interesting enough, with a seven per cent climb to Quriyat. This should be too much for the sprinters, presenting a chance to people like Dan Martin, who has shown off his puncheur skills earlier on in Valencia. Romain Bardet could also challenge.
The longest stage in the race, stage three's profile looks like that of a time trial, but the hill that dominates it rises four hundred metres in sixty kilometres. No, I've no idea either. This is the first stage for the sprinters, and the fastest on riding is Alexander Kristoff.
Green Mountain is a mainstay of the Tour of Oman, and often decides the race, Valls attacking here last year for victory. At fourteen kilometres, and reaching 1435 metres (quadruple-digits!), it's probably the hardest climb of any race this week. Vincenzo Nibali is the obvious favourite, but is it too early for him? Richie Porte could manage a victory, if he still has form from the Tour Down Under.
Another "iconic" stage of the Tour of Oman. Froome sprinted it out with Contador here in the 2013 race, but this is really more for the punchier riders. Ruí Costa is my favourite for this one.
This stage shouldn't serve as anything more than a coronation for the winner. A sprint is likely. Kristoff should win, and if he doesn't, Jans, Hofland or Renshaw should be there to clean up.
This race has possibly the weakest field of the week, with the obvious GC favourites being Nibali of Astana and Porte of BMC. Nibali brings a stronger team, and will want to be on form earlier than Porte in his quest for Giro success. However, February might be too early, so I'm giving the win to Porte out of the two, assuming they can hold off Costa and Martin.
Can they though? Costa is good in early-season races, and finished well on Green Mountain last year, behind his Lampre team-mate. It's difficult to predict anything that happens before April, but the playing field is leveled by the lack of form from the top riders. Martin is probably out of his depth on a climb as long as Jabal al Akhdar, unless he has one of his form days. Tom Dumoulin is also a possible contender, but the lack of a time-trial should take him out of contention.
So yeah, Porte's my pick for the week. Who's yours?