Tour of Oman 2010: A tough new early season challenge
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Hard on the heels of the Tour of Qatar, the first ever edition of the Tour of Oman kicks off this Sunday, but even though the two races are close geographically, unlike Qatar Oman's winner will almost certainly not be a sprinter or Classics specialist.
Oman is set to be decided in the final individual time trial, only 18 kilometres long and but a tough, very exposed climb almost as soon as the riders roll down the starting ramp. After that it's a rolling ride along the Oman coastline before the race finishes in the capital, Muscat, so calculating how much strength to use up on the first part of the course and how much is needed on the second flatter half will probably be the key to winning the stage.
The time trial is not the only difference between the two Middle Eastern races. Unlike Qatar, too, out of six stages, just two - the opening evening criterium on Sunday and stage five - really favour the sprinters.
Stage two has a kilometre-long uphill drag at the finish, stage three has a steep climb with just 16 kilometres to go and stage four - the longest and preceded by a transfer by plane given the start is a mere 300 kilometres from the team hotel - has a flattish finish but is hilly throughout.
Finally, whereas Qatar is now in its ninth year of existence, Oman is a brand new race, meaning the terrain is completely new for almost everybody in the peloton.
It's hot on the coast, but lots of factors such as the road surfaces and the weather inland on stages that reach as high as 916 metres on stage four all remain to be discovered.
Strangely enough for a race in which the climbs could have such a major effect, there is no King of the Mountains competition, although there are five other categories: the overall (red jersey), the points competition (green), the best young rider, (white), the most aggressive rider (white with red and green polka dots) and the teams prize.
Favourites will basically be time-trial specialists who haven't been blown out by their rivals' squads in the previous stages. Amongst the big names present are World and Olympic Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Garmin-Transition's Tyler Farrar.
The number of British riders racing is almost as high as Qatar. Of the Qatar line-up Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Russ Downing (Sky) and Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo) are not present, but Roger Hammond (Cervelo), Ian Stannard (Sky), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong) are all taking part. Dan Lloyd (Cervélo) is also in Oman, riding his first race of 2010.
Tour of Oman: Stages:
February 14: stage one: Muscat Corniche: 61km
February 15: stage two: Nizwa - Samail 148.5km
February 16: stage three: Saifat Ash Sheik - Qurayvat 124km
February 17: stage four: Ibri - Nakhal 187km
February 18: stage five: Wattayah - Sultan Qaboos Stadium 148km
February 19: stage six: Al Jissah - Muscat Corniche (individual time trial) 18.6km
Total distance: 687 kilometres
Tour of Oman: Teams:
Quick Step (Boonen)
Omega Pharma-Lotto (Gilbert)
Sky (Boasson Hagen, Flecha)
HTC-Columbia (Eisel, Pinotti)
Tour of Oman: British riders (to be confirmed)
Roger Hammond (Cervélo)
Dan Lloyd (Cervélo)
Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong)
Geraint Thomas (Sky)
Ian Stannard (Sky)
Tour of Qatar 2010: Coverage index