On Oman’s famous Green Mountain, V was for victory.
While it was Vincenzo Nibali, in appropriately-lime coloured Liquigas kit, who took the Tour of Oman’s queen stage, Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) donned the red jersey by the narrowest of margins.
It was a liberating return to form – and a reunion of sorts – for both men. Their biggest results, finishing first and third respectively in the 2010 Vuelta, were followed by a comparative year on the slide: Velits plagued by ill health, Nibali unable to recreate his scintillating form.
A slow stage, due to a headwind and abundance of draggy uphill, exploded into life on the 10.5% average, 5.7-kilometre final climb of Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain).
Nibali attacked at the foot of the climb. Rivals followed, but when he surged again with four kilometres to go, nobody reacted.
“I wouldn’t say that was a mistake, but it’s easy for that to happen,” Velits reflected.
Once in clear waters, the “Shark of Messina” showed the killer instinct his nickname suggests. He maintained a steady lead on the coiling road up through the lunarscape of Green Mountain, punching the air with delight upon crossing the line.
The Sicilian was all too wary that his last victory – barring Vuelta overall – came at the Trofeo Melinda in August 2010. It had been too long; he called this win “a liberation” and dedicated it to his girlfriend.
Velits snatches the lead
But Velits narrowly took the race lead. He saved his best till last, blasting up the final section and finishing second to Nibali, ten seconds down.
Sandy Casar was third, just ahead of FDJ-BigMat teammate Arnold Jeannesson.
“I knew that if I went too early, I could blow up and lose even more seconds. I waited till 150 to go and tried to lose as little as possible… I can be happy with the ride – but if I win, it’d be perfect,” he told CW minutes after the finish.
There was a nervous wait as the results and bonus seconds were totted up; Nibali and Velits had been separated by fifteen seconds in the morning.
Eddy Merckx was the man to give Velits the good news. He’d done enough: in red by one second. The Slovakian received congratulations from the Quick Step management and punched the air.
One second apart
But the Tour of Oman is not in the bag for Velits yet. While tomorrow’s sixth and final stage looks like a sprinters’ special – Mark Cavendish will hope to add to his two stage wins in Qatar – the intermediate sprint bonus seconds on offer could come into play.
“One second, it’s going to be quite tight,” Velits said at the finish. “But with the team we have here, big strong, guys, hopefully we can manage it.”
Meanwhile, Ian Stannard (Team Sky) rode strongly to 21st place, which augurs well for the forthcoming spring Classics.
Tour of Oman 2012, stage five: Royal Opera House, Muscat to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), 158km
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale in 4-43-47
2. Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 10 secs
3. Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 25 secs
4. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 30 secs
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan at 37 secs
6. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank at 47 secs
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 55 secs
8. Thomas Lebas (Fra) Bridgestone Anchor at 57 secs
9. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan at 1-01
10. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin-Barracuda at 1-02
21. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 2-16
25. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Barracuda at 2-47
Overall classification after stage five
1. Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 18-20-58
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 1 sec
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan at 17 secs
4. Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 21 secs
5. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 30 secs
6. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Rabobank at 30 secs
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 47 secs
8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin-Barracuda at 49 secs
9. Thomas Lebas (Fra) Bridgestone Anchor at 50 secs
10. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan at 52 secs
Vincenzo Nibali wins
Peter Velits takes the overall lead
Tour of Oman 2012: Stage reports
Tour of Oman 2012: Photo galleries