Aggressive riding by Edvald Boasson Hagen and Team Sky saw them split the front group apart in the Tour of Oman in the final hour and then leave the young Norwegian as Robert Gesink’s most decisive rival in tomorrow’s decisive time trial.
Sky went on a mass attack with around 30 kilometres to go, forming an echelon which remained at the head of the race all the way up the long, steady ascent to the foot of the Green Mountain climb.
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“When I heard all seven of our riders were in the front group, it was a great moment,” Sky sports director Servais Knaven told Cycling Weekly.
“You could see from their grins as they did their work and then eased back past the car that they were happy.”
“It wasn’t specifically planned beforehand, without race radios they have to work it out for themselves.”
“But we’d talked at the beginning of the week that if there was a possibility [to form an echelon] they should do it, and in the last half-hour, when it went from head-wind to cross-wind, that possibility was there.”
At the foot of the climb, Sky’s cobbled Classics specialist Juan Antonio Flecha opened up the throttle again for Boasson Hagen, squeezing the front group down to a bare half dozen. Then after Robert Gesink (Rabobank) attacked, , it was every man for himself, with Boasson Hagen the Dutchman’s closest pursuer.
“I didn’t want to go completely crazy following Gesink because he’s a climbing specialist and for me it was better just to keep a steady pace,” Boasson Hagen told Cycling Weekly afterwards.
“I thought if I could keep him at around half a minute I’d be pleased and when I counter-ataccked with one kilometre to go to be sure he didn’t get too far ahead, I got some seconds on the other guys, too.”
“The team did a great job, really keeping the pace high when it all split apart. I can’t thank them enough.”
Russell Downing hits the front of the bunch
Sky’s strong all-round performance and Boasson Hagen’s impressive ride means they can put any lingering memories of last year’s Tour of Oman behind them – when Boasson Hagen’s choice to stop to answer a call of nature on the hardest stage effectively lost him the race.
This time round, though, after the race’s one hill-top finish on the spectacular Green Mountain summit finish Boasson Hagen and Gesink are the top two contenders for overall victory.
Boasson has the advantage of knowing tomorrow’s 18 kilometre course well. It is the first half of the same ultra-hilly time trial route used in last year’s tt stage which he won.
Last year Boasson Hagen was unable to dislodge Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) from the top spot overall, but this year could prove different – and if he manages it, it would earn Sky their first stage race win since Ben Swift took the overall victory in last year’s Tour of Picardie.
“It’s good” said Knaven. “At the start of the week we thought maybe top three was going to be the best result. But now anything is possible.”