With guaranteed weather and a challenging course, the Tour of Oman is proving the ideal place to prepare for the spring classics
With any television coverage of the Tour of Oman hard to find, it is easy to ask why the race exists, let alone what is happening during the second race of the Middle East trio.
Where other races in the region are mainly flat – limiting opportunities for many – the varied terrain of the Sultanate provides something for all styles.
Sunday’s final stage and the opening day were for the sprinters, Saturday on the Green Mountain a chance for climbers to test their legs and the others for the puncheurs and rouleurs.
It is perhaps the latter, those aiming for spring goals on the northern cobbles and in rolling one-day races who have most to gain the most from the week.
Though Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) did not win a stage he was in aggressive mood, attacking on stages two and four.
“I like the weather and also it is not a boring desert race,” explains Terpstra. “It’s not always exciting, but you have some climbing, bendy roads and it is great preparation to start the year.
“It gives you some race pace, we can train whenever we want but in the race you always go a little but faster and it is hard to simulate that.”
One who has experienced some success is Nathan Haas. After competing his home races in Australia, the Katusha-Alpecin rider has stopped off en route to Europe and not only honed his form. His victory in stage two at Al Bustan gave him confidence for early targets at Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo.
“Confidence is a huge thing in the cycling game,” he explained while sheltering from the scorching sun at Saturday’s race start.
“But it’s actually the timing coming from Australia, I can segue across to Europe, half the time zone and stay in the nice weather a bit longer. I still acclimatise to the cold, but you don’t have the raw time in the cold to get sick.
“I think it’s an awesome parcours, I would almost like to come here in November to do a training camp.”
This year is the sixth consecutive Tour of Oman for Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, winner of stage three to Wadi Dayqah Dam. His recent Classics seasons have been consistently good, with last year as good as anyone could hope for.
“It is the perfect preparation,” said Van Avermaet who raced the Vuelta a la Communitat Valenciana before heading to the Middle East. “In the other years I was always feeling pretty good in Nieuwsblad and Kuurne, so I try to keep the same preparation.
“It is totally different from all the others in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they are more sprinters stages which I don’t like that much, I don’t have big options to win and most of the time the races are not hard there.
“Qatar was different with the wind so the strongest guy survived there a lot times, but when it disappeared I came back to the Valenciana but I kept Oman because I always had good feelings here. It is a good habit.”
While some of the peloton continue to hone their form in the Abu Dhabi Tour next week, Van Avermaet, Terpstra and many others will be in Belgium competing in the Openings Weekend races. The Belgian won the last two editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and has gone well at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Van Avermaet’s stunning 2017 winning streak concluded at Paris-Roubaix last year, and both he and Terpstra – who particularly covets the Queen of the Classics – will aim to be on form throughout the northern races.
Haas’s first target comes the week after Omloop at Strade Bianche, then subsequently San Remo. “They’re races I have typically been good in and just screwed up in the final,” he adds, confidence in both form and team boosted by his time in Oman.
What each of them has in common is they see each other as rivals, along with the likes of Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Sep Vanmarcke and Alexander Kristoff, the last another to have prepared in Oman.
The Tour of Oman has recently confirmed it will run for a further six years and organisers do provide a daily highlights package. It is therefore down to broadcasters to show this fascinating race which has become a key event in the build up to the Classics season.