Tour of Oman 2011 stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson>>
Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) sprinted to victory in Wednesday's second stage of the Tour of Oman, and now leads the race overall.
Aussie Goss beat Leopard-Trek's Daniele Bennati - who's had more second places this season than hot dinners - and Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen in a front group that had earlier shed many of the pure sprinters on the day's only climb.
Predictions of another bunch sprint, following Tuesday's opening stage, won by Rabobank's Theo Bos, couldn't have been wider of the mark. In the race manual, the 395-metre-high climb, coming 80km into the day's 140km stage between posh residential area The Wave, Muscat and Al Wutayya, eastwards along the coast, looked like a mere blip.
"That climb was pretty tough - really quite steep," Goss rasped at the finish. "And we went up there pretty quickly, too. By the top, there weren't that many guys left as it had really started to split up."
It was on the long, winding climb - basically a dual carriageway pass through the band of hills at the Tropic of Cancer, which the race passed through twice on the day's stage - that the day's break was caught. As An Post's Mark Cassidy and Geox's Daniel Ratto distanced their three breakaway companions - Dmytro Krivtsov (Lampre), Ronan Van Zandbeek (Skil-Shimano) and Topsport Vlaanderen's Stijn Neirynck - on the climb, Garmin and BMC were putting the hammer down back in the peloton, shedding the likes of Mark Cavendish (HTC), Quick Step's Tom Boonen and overnight race leader Bos.
On the long, straight descent, where riders touched speeds of 100kph, it was all over for the breakaway, and a 30-strong front group formed, including Goss and last year's Tour of Oman winner Fabian Cancellara.
"I was in that front group coming down," said Goss, "but I was still feeling quite comfortable, as I had [HTC team-mates] Marco Pinotti, Michael Albasini, Patrick Gretsch and Hayden Roulston all helping me."
During the last 40km of the stage, however, the front group was joined by the second group on the road to form a peloton of some 70 riders, who would head for home with an advantage of over 10 minutes.
"With about three to four kilometres to go, I kind of followed the Sky train," explained Goss, "and Hayden then did some big turns for me with about 800 metres to go to keep it strung out."
It was then up to Goss to finish it off, holding off Bennati and Boasson Hagen on the line, with the 10-second bonus for the win helping him into the red leader's jersey with a four-second lead over Bennati and six seconds over Boasson Hagen overall ahead of Thursday's third stage.
"I'm happy to have got the stage win and taken the jersey for now," Goss told Cycling Weekly, "but we'll take it day by day from here. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll be able to defend it with that mountain-top finish on Friday and the TT the next day. It's going to be pretty hard."
The Tour of Oman, then, has become a very different beast to the Tour of Qatar. And although the sprinters should get another chance on Thursday's third stage - a 200km-long loop starting and finishing in Sur on the eastern-most tip of the Sultanate of Oman - Friday's summit finish and Saturday's very hilly time trial will see a winner crowned from today's front group.
Obvious names - riders who can both climb and turn in good performances against the clock - include Garmin-Cervelo's Christian Vande Velde, Leopard's Maxime Monfort and Jakob Fuglsang, Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Theo Bos's Rabobank team-mate Robert Gesink.
But no doubt there'll be a few more surprises out here in the Middle East before the sixth and final stage in Muscat on Sunday.
Tour of Oman 2011, stage two: The Wave, Muscat - Al Wutayya, 139.5km
1. Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad in 3.18.17
2. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard-Trek
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC
5. Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-ISD
6. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini
7. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
8. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank all same time
9. Simon Clarke (Aus) Astana at 3 secs
10. Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-ISD at same time
57. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at 9 secs
76. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 10-34
82. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad
97. Roger Hammond (GB) Garmin-Cervelo
104. Mark McNally (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly
116. Andrew Fenn (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly
123. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Sky all same time
Overall classification after stage two
1. Matt Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad 6.56.36
2. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard-Trek at 4 secs
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 6 secs
4. Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-ISD at 10 secs
5. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC
7. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank
8. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Farnese Vini all at same time
9. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Cervelo at 13 secs
10. Mat Hayman (Aus) Sky at same time
29. Russell Downing (GB) Sky at 19 secs
74. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 10-38
76. Mark McNally (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly at 10-41
91. Roger Hammond (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 10-44
94. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky
115. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Sky all at same time
124. Andrew Fenn (GB) An Post-Sean Kelly at 11-04
Stage two featured some tough terrain that split the bunch
Irishman Mark Cassidy at the front of the escape
Jakob Fuglsang and Robert Gesink
Rabobank on the front for Theo Bos
Stage two scenery
Matt Goss takes the win ahead of Daniele Bennati
Tour of Oman 2011: Related links
Tour of Oman 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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