The Middle East race looks set to continue in its current guise for the next six years
The ninth edition of the Tour of Oman begins tomorrow morning with the promise of six more years, after organiser ASO signed an extension of its agreement with the Municipality of Muscat.
This year’s six stages are based largely around the Gulf state’s capital city, and part of the agreement includes a programme to increase cycling in the country.
Not only do they intend to help establish safe cycling infrastructure in and around the capital, ASO will be taking cycling into schools. This year the scheme will visit just two schools, both in Muscat, but in the coming years they intend to expand into every school in the country.
“The vision of the race is not only attached to the pro race,” Yann Le Moenner, ASO’s General Manager told Cycling Weekly at the race headquarters on Monday.
“It is also cycling as a key priority for the city. It is now time for Muscat to become a cycling paradise destination, and that starts not only with foreigners [tourists], but also the people of Muscat.”
On the surface the country may appear unattractive for cyclists, but this year’s race could illustrate the country’s varied cycling credentials.
Of the six stages, the first and last are set to be for the sprinters, stages two, three and four are for the puncheurs, with Saturday’s signature stage to Jabal Al Akhdar – Green Mountain – with 5.7km averaging 10.5 per cent – definitely one for the climbers.
Until last year the Tour of Oman was one of three Middle Eastern races owned by ASO. After the 2016 Doha World Championships, however, both the men’s and women’s Tour of Qatar disappeared from the calendar, leaving Giro d’Italia organiser, RCS with more events in the region than the French company.
“We have been here for years with Qatar and Oman,” continued Le Moenner. “It is important to be present at the beginning of the season, we are everywhere in the world so we definitely want to keep a strong link with the Middle East and Oman is the best country to do that.”
The race is certainly less glitzy than the Dubai and and Abu Dhabi Tours, and arguably the lack of live television coverage accentuates the low key feel.
The varied route does, however, attract some of the world’s best riders, with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) among 126 riders due to take the start tomorrow.
“For sure compared to the other races there are more climbs, so you see a lot of climbers here,” said Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) who has competed at each edition of the race and has seven stage wins to his name.
“The climbing and hilly days are full on and there is a little bit of the Classics in Oman. It is mainly the same guys and it is good preparation.”
While Kristoff is unlikely to compete in all six of the events announced today the Tour of Oman is certain to maintain its place as a perfect training ground for Classics hard men.
The Tour of Oman begins on Tuesday morning with the opening stage covering 162.5km stage between Nizwa and the Sultan Qaboos University.