Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won stage one of the Tour of Oman after the kind of flat, fast sprint that is tailor made for the big German.
Kittel paid tribue to his team, which finally clicked after drawing blanks at the Tour Down Under and Tour of Qatar. Kittel led the team in Australia, with John Degenkolb riding Qatar, but the two German sprinters combined on day one in Oman to good effect.
Degenkolb, who prefers a tougher, more selective finish, was the second last rider in the Argos train, with Tom Veelers acting as lead-out man for Kittel, who crossed the line first in a blanket finish, ahead of Davide Appollonio (Ag2r) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ).
“I’m especially very proud because we stayed calm and followed our plan,” said Kittel. “It’s always a nice feeling if you can give a win back to the team.”
It proved that he and Degenkolb could work together, he added. “It’s been a long time since we last raced in the same sprint, but it’s good working for each other. We will help him here on the stages that suit him.
“John was part of the lead-out, it’s something he can do very well as a sprinter himself. It was a very good combination.
“Sometimes the small things can make a big difference and we had problems at the Tour of Down Under trying to find each other. We made mistakes there, but today was just amazing.
“The team worked all day,” continued Kittel. “We said we wanted to go for the win and the boys did a great job. The first victory of the season is very important for the team and for me. We can be relaxed now and look forward to the next days.”
Until the final sprint, it was an uneventful stage, with just one small climb in the 162km between Al Musannah and Sultan Qaboos University. Bobbie Traksel, the Dutchman on the Chinese Champion System team, jumped away in the first few kilometres, taking Kohei Uchima of Japan with him.
The peloton showed no interest, letting them gain nine minutes before they began to tire. But as Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) said later, the race never ignited, despite signs that it might. “It was a bit nervous for everyone,” said Wiggins. “At times it was nervous, at other times we were doing nothing.”
Wiggins was one of several riders held up by a crash in the final 2km, and he crossed the line a minute-and-a-half after Kittel, but confident he would be given the same time, even if the initial results didn’t confirm that.
Wiggins confirmed he was “second GC” rider for Sky at this race, with Chris Froome the nominated leader and expected to shine on Thursday’s stage to the summit of Green Mountain.
“You get to these races and you want to be part of it,” said Wiggins. “But much as I’d love to be up there on that climb in a few days, the reality is I probably won’t be. But for what we’re aiming for in a couple of months, this is that period when I need to do the work and the last six weeks have been pretty hard.”
Tour of Oman 2013, stage one: Al Musannah to Sultan Qaboos University, 162km
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Argos-Shimano
2. Davide Appollonio (Ita) Ag2r
3. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Astana
5. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
7. Filippo Fortin (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox
8. Kristof Goddeart (Bel) IAM Cycling
9. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale
10. Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Astana all same time
14. Russell Downing (GBr) NetApp-Endura at same time
52. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at same time
90. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at same time
120. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky at 24 secs
121. Erick Rowsell (GBr) NetApp-Endura at 24 secs
138. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky at 1-21
Overall classification after stage one
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Argos-Shimano
2. Davide Appollonio (Ita) Ag2r at 4 secs
3. Bobbie Traksel (Bel) Champion System at 4 secs
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ at 6 secs
5. Dominique Rollin (Can) FDJ at 9 secs
6. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox at 9 secs
7. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Astana at 10 secs
8. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 10 secs
9. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 10 secs
10. Filippo Fortin (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox at 10 secs
Fumi Beppu chases the escape
Bradley Wiggins and Sky team-mate Chris Froome
Marcel Kittel takes the opening stage in Oman
Marcel Kittel in the race lead