NASEEM GARDEN, Oman (VN) — Tom Boonen came out of the changing tent with a smile on his face in spite of losing out at the Tour of Oman’s first stage to André Greipel. He knew this 165.5-kilometer day from As Suwayq Castle to Naseem Garden was one that got away after his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team established a strong train in the final kilometer. The Belgian classics king also knows tomorrow’s another day.
“Always, huh? If it’s not another day tomorrow then we have a big problem,” he said, smiling. “Fourth, fifth or 15th it doesn’t matter, eh? No, it was a good result. We had a good leadout until the last kilometer, and then it was a little bit hectic. We left a little bit too much space on the right side, and there was a small mistake that we make, but I think it costs us the victory. That way, Lotto guys I think they were in 20th position there, they came from the right and moved over us. So it was a mistake.”
Greipel earned his second win in a week after a victory at the Tour of Qatar and appears back on track after Boonen bested him in two sprints there last week. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge) was second and Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) was third. Asked if he felt a bit fleeter than last week, the German’s answer was typically succinct. “You can sprint or you can’t sprint. That’s how it is,” he said at the foot of the podium. “No other team deserved the win more than we did.”
Indeed this was to be Lotto-Belisol’s day early on, as Greipel put his men at the peloton’s arrowhead all day, reeling in an early breakaway that stretched its leash to six minutes at one point.
“They did all the work. They did all the work. The guys, they showed straightaway from the start that they were interested in the stage, that they were going to do everything. The guys only had two minutes I think at 60Ks to go,” Boonen said. “We put one guy in the front just to show our good will, was not really necessary. … They deserved the win. It’s not that I’m mad that I lost; I’m mad because we made a mis-chance today. It’s always stupid when you do a perfect leadout and then the last kilometer you fuck it up a little bit.”
In what’s shaped up to be a surprising battle for the early season’s sprint wins, Bonnen and Greipel are now even. And Omega Pharma’s leaving the door open could have been overcome even had the right side been shut, Greipel said.
“That’s cycling. Otherwise we play chess I always say. I trust my guys 100 percent. Everybody knows what they have to do,” he said. “Even, I think, if Quick Step doesn’t open the right side, we pass on the left. I just stick to my wheel, and I think we deserved it.”
The Omega Pharma debriefing was not short after the race, a sign the Belgian classics powerhouse is taking the third leg of this Middle Eastern tour as serious as last week in Qatar, which it thoroughly dominated, taking three wins and the overall, with Niki Terpstra. Asked if the team would address the issue, Boonen said that was already finished.
“Oh. It’s already been said,” he said. “It’s a good sign, eh? It’s a sign we still like to race, eh? If you cross the finish line and you’re like, ‘fourth, that’s OK,’ That’s not good, eh?”
BMC Racing looking for time?
With the headwind light at the finish, BMC Racing tried to take advantage of crosswinds with about 25 kilometers to go, perhaps looking to take a bite out of Sky and Chris Froome for its GC man, Tejay van Garderen. The move came just after the peloton ate up the remains of the breakaway.
“It was already a little bit nervous before the corner and then BMC, they really accelerated through the corner, and then everybody tried to stay in front. But it was not enough wind to really make a big gap,” Boonen said.
UnitedHealthcare’s Lucas Euser came across the line in good spirits, and said the late move was something neighboring teams attempted to push along.
“It was just kind of en effort of everybody. If you were there, you hit it. It was right as we caught the break. It didn’t last very long, just a few K, and then it came back,” he said. “And then it was just fast and nervous to the finish. … It was still a good day, and Lotto deserved that… All in all it was a good first stage, a good race. We’re happy to be here.”
The Tour of Oman rolls on tomorrow, with another expected sprint contest at the end of a 140.5km stage from Al Bustan to Quriyat.