MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Call this the opening course in this young season for some GC riders. By the feel of it, the group is very hungry.
Friday’s stage 4 at the Tour of Oman saw a few attacks, and a Peter Sagan (Cannondale) victory. Business as usual, it would seem. But the leading three riders — Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Sagan — took the long side of a roundabout at about one kilometer to go, cutting their 20-second lead to just two by the time they’d crossed the finish line. Sagan reportedly bunnyhopped the offending curb, thus conserving energy and easily winning a sprint he likely would have won regardless.
The tough finishing circuit here saw the peloton ascend a short, punchy climb four times in total, and on its slopes, a welcome-to-the-season throwdown played out.
“The first two [climbs] were strong tempos, but nothing major,” said BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen. “The third one I was kind of predicting Sky were going to set their traditional tempo, which they started to, but then they started launching attacks, which was a bit different tactic than what I’m used to them doing. It was a bit more of an aggressive style. Mikel Nieve (Sky) got away, but he was only by himself, and we knew that since there was a big headwind there wasn’t much a chance of him staying away.”
Eventually, Sagan and the two GC riders tucked into a move together. One that came with flowers for Sagan but ended up short of the others’ hopes: a few seconds on Froome isn’t a lot of time with the 20-minute climb of Green Mountain looming Saturday, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“Quick Step was aggressive the last time up the ascent. And you know Froome put in another monster attack in headwind and dropped us from his wheel,” van Garderen said. “So he’s definitely not playing any poker. He’s letting everyone know how strong he is, and he’s certainly strong.”
Van Garderen said the two riders looking the best from what he saw today were Froome and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo). As for himself, van Garderen said he feels good.
“I felt good. I didn’t feel like I’m in top, top form like, I could respond to one, two attacks. And then by the third one I was like, ‘whoa, this hurts,’” he said. “When you’re on really good form it seems like you can just kind of spin a lighter gear, and kind of go with the flow. And I was kind of having to muscle it a bit there at the end. I feel like my form is coming around.”
Saturday’s ascent up the steep Green Mountain climb will decide this Tour of Oman. As it stands now, Sagan leads the overall, though that won’t last. Urán is second, at 10 seconds. Nibali is third, three seconds in arrears of Urán. Kreuziger, Froome, van Garderen, and Robert Gesink (Belkin) are all 18 seconds down on Sagan and eight back of Urán.
“Tomorrow is going to be really the deciding factor. All this other stuff has just been sussing each other out,” van Garderen said. “But yeah, I think I’ll have a good run at it tomorrow.”