GREEN MOUNTAIN, Oman (VN) — It doesn’t matter if everyone knows what’s coming if no one can do a thing about it.
Chris Froome established himself again as the cream of the general classification crop here in Oman, and his Sky team was a brutal force to be reckoned with — or not. Froome won the stage with an attack that stuck about 2 kilometers from the finish on Green Mountain (5.7km at 10.5 percent) and took the overall jersey and victory, barring catastrophe in Sunday’s parade sprint in Muscat.
American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) delivered an excellent ride, coming in second on the stage and gapping off climbers like Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He finished 22 seconds down on Froome but 11 seconds up on Uran, and 16 ahead of Rodriguez. Van Garderen is 26 seconds down to Froome on the GC.
“[Sky’s Sergio] Henao was up the road, and [Belkin’s Robert] Gesink put in an attack. After his go everyone in the group was looking pretty tired. I was thinking if I could get away clean with Henao then tactics would dictate that Froome would stay in the group, because he had a teammate up,” van Garderen said.
“But obviously Froome was being attentive. He followed my wheel and countered me as soon as we caught Henao. I didn’t try to bury myself to stay with Froome — I know that can be a mistake sometimes. So I tried to stay in my tempo. It looked like I was holding him pretty even. He was probably pulling away a bit. But yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I think for the first race of the year it’s going okay.”
Froome appeared alone at the finish, and came across as more joyous than relieved. He said this year carried less pressure than the last as he sought to establish himself as Sky’s outright alpha
“Extremely happy. Extremely. I think we came to this with a lot less pressure on our shoulders, a lot less stress. From a personal perspective I could see where I was, where my condition was. And I think today, today I got the answer I wanted,” Froome said.
“We took a bit of a backseat today, coming into the last climb and only took it up in the last few kilometers. So we didn’t waste any energy on the front too early or anything.”
Two kilometers into the 5.7km effort, Sky regrouped from an early Tinkoff-Saxo shakedown and started its train rolling. David Lopez tore it apart on the steep section, and the bleeding began.
“I think he did a lot of damage. Everybody contributed. Mikel Nieve took over, did a good job. And when it came to Sergio, 2 kilometers to go, he put in a well-timed attack. Only two, Gesink and Tejay chasing. When they brought him back, that was the perfect moment for me to attack,” Froome said.
“We set out today with that exact plan in mind, and it’s a really good feeling to see it come exactly like we planned.”
UnitedHealthcare’s Lucas Euser had a front row seat, then a back seat, and finally an upper-deck seat to the Sky show.
“It was tough,” he said. “Ahhhhh. … It was hard. I like that, though. Honestly, I just, I’m not that good here. I thought I’d be better. But sometimes you’re good, sometimes you’re not. I was in good position for the climb. But you know, the big boys are here,” he said.
“Sky just did its thing. It was like — I was probably 10th wheel to start, right on Tejay, and all the sudden you just see the Sky train go.
“It’s fucking really impressive. I admire it, man. I admire it, ‘cause they, you know, they’re not guided by fear. They take control. And that’s how you win bike races. That’s how you win life. You take it by the balls. And they do that, and it’s impressive every time.
“Look at the firepower they have, sitting right behind us right now … you see [Kanstantsin] Siutsou, Henao, Nieve, [Dario] Cataldo, Froome. Any one of those guys could have won today. Together, it’s almost unstoppable.”