By Owen Rogers
Alexander Kristoff won stage one of the Tour of Oman on Saturday, out-sprinting his rivals to take the first win of his season. The Norwegian hit the front with 70m to go and crossed the line ahead of Frenchmen Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept-B&B Hotels) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
The closing kilometre was straight as die but with the wind coming from the sea to the peloton’s right, timing the sprint was essential for Kristoff, who sprinted in the saddle throughout the final.
A former European champion, Kristoff is the third sprinter from his UAE Team Emirates squad to take a victory this season, after Fernando Gaviria’s success in South America and Belgian Jasper Philipsen’s at the Tour Down Under.
Kristoff was clearly relieved to get the win, saying: “All the sprinters on the team have been winning so it was about time I was winning a race.”
Kristoff has attended every one of the ten editions of the race, winning at least one stage a year since 2014, and with nine wins has more than any other rider.
How it happened
The pan flat opening stage of the 10th edition of the Tour of Oman started at Al Sawadi Beach in a straight line, parallel with the coast, to Suhar Corniche, and with a breeze blowing off the sea, crosswinds had been expected.
That did not deter the early, four man breakaway, who attacked the moment the flag dropped after the 4.5km neutralised zone, building an early lead.
Alexis Guerin (Delco-Marseille Provence), Sergio Rodriguez (Euskadi Murias), Emiel Planckaert (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Michael Schär (CCC) built an advantage in excess of three minutes before they had reached the 20km mark.
By the time the escapees reached the first intermediate sprint of the day, they led the peloton by more than four minutes, which would be their maximum advantage. There, in Al Hadib it was Guerin who took the honours, the three bonus seconds and the same number of points towards the sprinter’s classification.
It was after this sprint that the leaders’ gap began to drop, a minute being lost in just five kilometres. On the front French Pro Conti squad Vital Concept-B&B Hotels were working for sprinter, Bryan Coquard hoping to repeat his opening stage win of last year’s race.
Just before the feed zone, with 63km remaining, the crosswinds finally hit, causing an increase in pace and a split in the bunch, also bringing the gap to the leaders down to just 1.15. However, as the peloton reformed, once again the gap went out, increasing to 2-45 as they entered the closing 35km.
With 32km to go Schär won the final intermediate sprint and, having finished second in the previous one, was set to wear the gold jersey of the most aggressive rider classification.
After this sprint, the gap once again began to be eroded as the sprinters’ teams took control, setting up the bunch finish.
Schär and Kristoff are the only two riders to have ridden each edition of the Tour of Oman, and while Kristoff is the record stage winner, the Swiss rider has never known victory, making do only with the breakaway.
“I went to my director in the neutralisation and said I would go in the break, I was joking but I had to hold my word,” he laughed afterwards.
“I really like it,” he continued when asked why he keeps returning. “It’s different here there’s a lot of culture and you feel the people and that culture.
“It’s also perfect preparation for the classics, it has an absolutely balanced parcours, something for the sprinters, for the puncheurs, for the true climber and even for the breakaway guys.”
Schär is likely to be busy on Sunday’s lumpy 156.5km stage between Royal Cavalry Oman and Al Bustan. This is a stage for the all-rounder and his CCC team mate Greg van Avermaet has identified it as one for him.
Tour of Oman 2019, stage one: Al Sawadi Beach to Sugar Corniche (138.5km)
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates in 2-54-50
2. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotels
3. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis
4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Dimension Data
5. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Direct Energie
6. Mikel Aristi (Esp) Euskadi Murias
7. Boy van Poppel (Ned) Roompot Charles
8. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Astana
9. Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen Baloise
10. Emils Liepins (Lat) Wallonie-Bruxelles all at same time
General classification after stage one
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates in 2-54-40
2. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Vital Concept-B&B Hotels at 04 sec
3. Michael Schär (Swi) Team CCC at 05 sec
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis at 06 sec
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Dimension Data at 10 sec
6. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Direct Energie
7. Mikel Aristi (Esp) Euskadi Murias
8. Boy van Poppel (Ned) Roompot Charles
9. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Astana
10. Amaury Capiot (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen Baloise
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