Rabobank's Robert Gesink climbed to victory on the fourth stage of the Tour of Oman on Friday, dedicating the win to his late father. The 24-year-old Dutchman also takes over as the new race leader.
It was Rabobank's third win in four stages, and puts Gesink in an excellent position to take the overall title, leading Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen by 44 seconds with two stages remaining.
Boasson Hagen showed his all-round ability by finishing second on the stage, 47 seconds down on Gesink, looking comfortable on the six-kilometre-long climb to the finish on Green Mountain, having spent the first three stages of the race mixing it in the sprints.
With both riders' excellent ability against the clock, it sets up a mouthwatering penultimate stage on Saturday: an extremely testing 18.5km individual time trial, which should see the winner of this second Tour of Oman crowned.
A frenetic start to Friday's 157.5km stage between Sultan Qaboos University and Jabal Al Akhdhar - or Green Mountain - eventually saw a seven-rider move stay clear after 40 kilometres. It again included Britain's Mark McNally (An Post-Sean Kelly), who had helped animate Monday's first stage by spending most of the day in a break.
The septet - which also included Quick Step's Kevin Van Impe and Astana's Tomas Vaitkus - had built up a lead of almost three minutes by the halfway point of the stage, but were swallowed up once the race hit the 35km-long circuit which came just before the start of the final climb.
Strong winds in the final 40 kilometres served to cut the bunch to ribbons, with a front group of 25 riders forming, made up of most of the overall contenders, including reigning Oman champion Fabian Cancellara, his Leopard-Trek team-mates Maxime Monfort and Jakob Fuglsang, Garmin-Cervelo's Christian Vande Velde, and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), as well as overnight race leader Matt Goss (HTC).
As the group started the final climb - at an average of 10 per cent, with sections up to 14 per cent - race leader Goss could hold on no longer. Vinokourov took the opportunity to attack, but was quickly swallowed up by the Leopard-Trek trio on a short downhill section.
As the road rose once more, Gesink and HTC's Michael Albasini came to the front of the by then dozen-strong front group, distancing both Vinokourov and Cancellara in the process.
Cancellara managed to fight his way back, but with two kilometres to go - and with race leader Goss already almost two minutes down - the Swiss was dropped for good as Gesink dealt his hammer blow.
Only Vande Velde and Quick Step's Dries Devenyns could react, although they never managed to reach the Dutch climber's back wheel.
A late surge by Boasson Hagen relegated Devenyns to third on the stage, with Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini) fourth and Vande Velde in fifth.
"I did it for my dad," an exhausted Gesink said at the finish, fighting back the tears. "I tried not to think about him too much because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get to the finish the way I did, but it was just on the finish line, and just after, that I remembered him."
Gesink's father was involved in a cycling accident last October - the day after Gesink had won the Giro dell'Emilia for the second year running. His father died two weeks later as a result of his injuries.
"I had a difficult winter with my family," explained Gesink, "and it was difficult to pick up cycling again. But I did, and for the past month I've been doing everything on my training schedule and then a little extra as I wanted to show the world, my family - and my dad, of course - that I wanted to continue for him, so it's a really nice feeling that it's worked out.
"I'll do my best to defend my overall lead in tomorrow's time trial, but I was here specifically for today's stage of the race," Gesink continued. "It's a very difficult time-trial course, but today was my biggest challenge: to show everybody that I was thinking of my dad."
After getting back to the hotel late last night following the long transfer from the finish of Thursday's third stage, Gesink explained that the team had been unable to celebrate his team-mate, and room-mate, Theo Bos's stage victory.
"So tonight I think we'll celebrate. After his first stage victory [on Monday], we had two bottles of champagne. Theo then promised four bottles to celebrate his second win - which we haven't had yet - so for today's win it will probably be eight bottles," Gesink smiled. "Eight plus four? That makes tomorrow's stage even more difficult..."
Tour of Oman 2011, stage four: Sultan Qaboos University - Jabal Al Akhdhar, 157.5km
1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank in 4.03.58
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 47 secs
3. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step at 51 secs
4. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Farnese Vini at 53 secs
5. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at same time
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC at 1-02
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard-Trek ay 1-05
8. Michael Albasini (Swi) HTC-Highroad at same time
9. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky at 1-12
10. Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Farnese Vini at 1-29
18. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at 3-38
38. Roger Hammond (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 6-58
53. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 10-15
72. Mark McNally (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly 11-46
94. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at 12-53
95. Andrew Fenn (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly at 12-54
Overall classification after stage four
1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 44 secs
3. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step at 57 secs
4. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at 1-03
5. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Farnese Vini at same time
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC at 1-09
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard-Trek at 1-15
8. Michael Albasini (Swi) HTC-Highroad at same time
9. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky at 1-22
10. Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Farnese Vini at 1-33
18. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at 3-48
76. Roger Hammond (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 17.39
84. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 21.27
98. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 23-28
99. Mark McNally (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly at 23.35
100. Andrew Fenn (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly at 23.55
Robert Gesink celebrates his win
Edvald Boasson Hagen gives it maximum effort to come in second
Tour of Oman 2011: Related links
Tour of Oman 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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