It was billed as the decisive stage of the Tour of Oman, and it certainly looked like that at the finish line on Green Mountain after 6km of climbing.
It was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who appeared alone to claim the win, having attacked a select lead group with a kilometre to go, but Chris Froome (Team Sky) was just behind and closing fast to take over the leader’s red jersey.
Behind these two, there was a who’s who of stage racing: Cadel Evans (BMC) was next, with Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), who rode in typically aggressive fashion as soon as they started to tackle the 10 per cent slopes, and Vincenzo Nibali just behind. Froome now leads overall by 24 seconds from Evans, with Contador a further second back and Nibali, who seemed to crack in the final 50 metres, at 34 seconds.
Once again it was a quiet stage that exploded into life at the end. Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team led it to the base of the climb, making it, as Froome later said, “very hard and explosive.” As expected, Contador attacked early and dragged a group away. It didn’t contain Froome.
“I got dropped at the foot of the climb,” said Froome, “and then got across on my own on the flat bit. Richie [Porte] was in the front group and he helped me control Contador a couple of times, when he attacked.
“I tried to ride the climb without any major surges, knowing it was a hard climb with the toughest bits at the top. It was very tactical. Contador, Nibali and Rodriguez put in a few accelerations, each time leaving me behind a bit.”
When Rodriguez got away the others watched each other. With 500 metres to go, Froome jumped after the Spaniard. “I wasn’t sure if the climb went further up,” said Froome, because I could see people standing further up the hill.”
In fact, the road continued on up the mountain for another 12km, and the higher point offered a better view for the spectators. But Froome couldn’t take any chances. “I thought, if it is 500 to go, I’d better get moving.”
He took a chunk out of Rodriguez’s lead, but couldn’t quite catch him. There was no reaction from Contador, Evans or Nibali, which surprised Froome when he looked behind him. “I thought they were maybe holding something back, so I expected them to be straight after me. I was quite pleased to see that they were looking at each other.”
“Tomorrow’s going to be very hard,” Froome added of a stage that includes more, albeit smaller, climbs. “No doubt they’re going to throw everything at us.”
He also paid tribute to the work done by his team, highlighting the support of the Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, who took Froome up to the front of the bunch at the foot of the climb before peeling off.
“That was the plan,” said Wiggins, “to get Chris up to the climb with him using as little energy as possible. We did that and he took the jersey, [so it's] a brilliant day for us.
“Tomorrow will be difficult, but this is where we’re at our best, when we’re in this position as a team. We know what we need to do tomorrow and Chris has showed today that he has the legs to to do it.”
Tour of Oman 2013, stage four: Al Saltiyah in Samail to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), 152.5km
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 4 secs
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 22 secs
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 27 secs
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 36 secs
6. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ at 43 secs
7. Johan Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling at 52 secs
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r at 57 secs
9. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ at 1-01
10. Yannick Eijssen (Bel) BMC Racing at 1-09
13. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at 1-18
Overall classification after stage four
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 24 secs
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 25 secs
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 34 secs
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 45 secs
6. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ at 49 secs
7. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r at 58 secs
8. Johan Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling at 58 secs
9. Maxime Bouet (Fra) Ag2r at 1-15
10. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ at 1-23
16. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at 1-54
63. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky at 10-28
96. Russell Downing (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 14-19
101. Erick Rowsell (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 15-10
111. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky at 17-00
Brent Bookwalter leads the early escape group
Alberto Contador attacks Vincenzo Nibali
Chris Froome leads the contenders group on Green Mountain
Joaquim Rodriguez takes the stage win
Chris Froome at the finish
Bradley Wiggins finishes
Chris Froome in the leader’s jersey