The Irish pro continental team are trying to make their mark at the 2017 Tour of Oman
Aqua Blue continued their charge into their debut season on Wednesday in the Tour of Oman. Mark Christian, fresh in the aggressive rider jersey, says this is exactly why they came to the race.
Christian, who rode with Team Wiggins in the last two seasons, escaped and his Danish team-mate Lasse Norman Hansen attacked in the final 10km to Al Bustan, just east of Muscat.
“This is exactly what we came for, we want to be represented in the race,” Christian told Cycling Weekly with the leader’s flowers in his hands.
“Firstly it was a good start yesterday [Tuesday] with a man in the break and also fourth place on the stage with Lasse. It was backed up well today. To be in the break and get the jersey. I hope I’ll be able to defend it tomorrow.”
Ireland’s professional continental Aqua Blue Sport signed Adam Blythe, Andrew Fenn and Matt Brammeier over the winter to form the core of its new team.
In the dusty dirt car park next to the finish, with views of the Arabian Sea below, Blythe stood in his white British champion’s kit and wiped the day’s grit from his face.
“It shows off the team’s value well,” Blythe said before climbing on his bike to ride the 45km back to the hotel. “We have good riders here and it shows our ambitions.
“We did the Dubai Tour and now here in Oman. It’s a good start and good to get invitations to these races. We have to keep doing good rides in the races and keep getting invited back.”
For second division teams in the professional continental ranks, especially a new one, invitations to the big races are gladly received.
“These are important races, we try to show ourselves and hopefully get invitations to the big races later in the season,” sports director Nicki Sorensen explained.
“It is an ASO race, so I hope that they are looking at us a little bit. Actually, I think they are looking. I’m positive about it. The Vuelta a España is a very big goal of ours and we’d like to also make the Tour de Suisse selection.
“However, this is a very nice race and a very good build up for the rest of the season.”
Christian and his partner Preben Van Hecke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) survived until the final 20 kilometres of the rolling stage through the sultan state. Hansen countered the move and escaped in the final 10 kilometres.
The favourites dominated and Belgian Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) won the stage and took the jersey, but Aqua Blue left a mark.
“It’s important to both the team and to the race organisers,” added Christian. “I’ve done a couple of years at a continental level, but this is my first year in a pro conti team.
“To be in these races more regularly now, it is a bit of a step up for me, but it’s also a chance to step forward.
“Likewise for the team. These are early races for the team and we are making our first races and we are making our first steps in the pro peloton. Straight away, it’s important to be noticed.
“It’s important to be seen and get off on the right foot. We can build on that on that later in the season.”