The eighth edition of the Tour of Oman, due to begin at Al Sawadi Beach on the 14th February, looks set to welcome a diverse range of riders to the startline with its varied stage terrain.
An initial sprint stage on the coast will suit the likes of marquee names Tom Boonen and Alexander Kristoff, with riders like Sacha Modolo, Greg Van Avermaet, Adam Blythe, Max Walscheid and Kenny Dehaes likely battling it out for the top placings alongside.
During the race, the leader of the General Classification wears a red jersey, the leader of sprinter’s points classification is denoted by a green jersey and best young rider by white. The race does not contain a mountains jersey. The most aggressive rider wears a white jersey with green and red polka-dots.
Now in its eighth year, the route of the Tour of Oman is a familiar one. The downhill run towards the line on stage 1 at Naseem Park looks certain to be a bunch sprint, but the fast men will be ruled out of contention on the following leg to Al Bustan, which features four categorised climbs, including the stiff Al Jissah. Jungels won there a year ago by powering clear on the descent using a 55-tooth chainring.
The uphill finish at Quriyat on stage 3 was claimed by Edvald Boasson Hagen a year ago, and the finale is tough enough for the GC contenders to show themselves. Stage 4 features three successive ascents of Boucher Al Amerat that will inevitably force a selection before the finish at the Ministry of Tourism.
The general classification question will be decided, meanwhile, on the penultimate leg to Green Mountain, which serves as something of a latter-day Mont Faron for GC men seeking a (very) early test of their climbing legs. The final slopes of the climb are particularly brutal, and after inching his way to second place a year ago, Bardet will aim to go one better this time around. The short final day to Matrah Corniche, meanwhile, will offer the sprinters one final opportunity for stage honours.
To win this race, you need to cope with the Green Mountain. That means you have to be a top climber, although, picking up bonus seconds in the other stages would help.
Fabio Aru – after winning the Vuelta in 2015, everyone expected a big season from Aru. Unfortunately, 2016 will go down as a very poor year. A breakaway win in the Dauphine was the only high point, with many low points. He was 14th in Catalunya, DNF in Pais Vasco, DNF in Amstel, 45th in the Dauphine and 13th in the Tour. I’m sure we all remember how spectacularly he blew in the final mountain stage to Morzine, while sitting 6th on GC. With no Nibali, all the GC pressure from Astana is now on Aru. His bosses have a reputation for lacking patience, they will not tolerate another poor season. With the Giro as his big target, I would expect him to hit the season running.
Jakob Fuglsang – 3rd here in 2016, the Dane returns for another shot at the title. He has already shown good form in 2017, finishing 6th in Valenciana. This will be one of the few races he and Aru do together this year, as Fuglsang will be riding the Tour de France as team leader. Having two options in this race is a bonus, especially on the punchy stages. Astana will expect to leave this race as the winners.
Romain Bardet – another who enjoyed this race in 2016, finishing in second place. Unlike Aru, the French rider have a wonderful season. Not only was he 2nd in the Tour, but he was also 2nd in the Dauphine. He seems to ride without fear, which excites fans. He is always prepared to attack and is not scared to lose races. Fans love this about him. He is the strongest climber in this race and starts as the favourite.
Rui Costa – the former world champion is now riding for the UAE Abu Dhabi team. He has started the season in fine form, winning the Queen stage in Vuelta San Juan. Races in this part of the world are very important for his new team, so expect Costa to be riding at a high level. He certainly has a good chance of winning a stage and finishing high on GC.
Bob Jungels – the GC surprise of 2016. His 6th place in the Giro was once of the breakthrough results of the season. Still just 24 years old, the future is very bright for the Luxembourg rider. As he starts to focus on being a GC rider, he’ll have his ups and downs, but I hope to see him doing well here. He was a brilliant teammate in Dubai, working very well to set up the sprints. Now it’s his turn to impress.