Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has blasted to a close but convincing bunch sprint win in stage five of the Tour of Oman, his third win of the season and a strong indication that he is good shape for the early-season Classics next weekend.
Tornado Tom's win came on Oman's flattest stage of the race, a 148 kilometre out-and-back trek along the stunning Indian Ocean coastline north of the capital, Muscat.
"I had a few problems in the final kilometres getting through the bunch, but finally I could get in a good position," Boonen said afterwards.
"I think I was only 20 metres from the line before I finally managed to get past Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank), it was a little bit uphill so that made it a hard finish."
Now second overall and just two seconds behind race leader Italian Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Boonen refused to rule himself out of the battle for the overall, which will be decided in the final 18 kilometre time-trial on Friday.
However, whilst specialists Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) are now fighting for the stage win, others top time-triallists like Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) are in a position to take the overall in a course which features a large climb in the first half and a flatter second part.
"I'll try to do my best and hopefully I'll have a good day," Boasson Hagen, sixth in the bunch sprint behind Boonen, told Cycling Weekly after the stage.
"It's a very hard course, particularly the first part, and we'll have to see how it goes. It's early in the season and I feel good, but maybe on the climbs I'm not that good."
"We'll go and check it out tomorrow morning, it's a pity none of us have time trial bikes, but it's the same for everybody and it would be nice to take a second win here in Oman."
World and Olympic Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara, twentieth at 16 seconds behind Bennati, was in a reasonably optimistic mood after the stage, although the Saxo Bank rider is suffering from a slight cold.
"It's early in the season but I'm up there, I've been out here [in the Middle East] for two weeks and I'm doing ok," Cancellara told Cycling Weekly.
"That said, it's a really tough course, the last few days have been quite stressful with a lot of hard racing, I've got a bit of a cold and sore throat, and there are other guys like Bennati and Boasson who can do well too."
"But it's the last day of racing so I'll certainly give it a real try. On a course as difficult as that you can lose a lot of time easily, but you can also really make a big difference if you're feeling good. I have a chance."
The six-day Tour of Oman runs from Sunday February 14 to Friday February 19 2010. Tomorrow's final stage is a decisive 18.6km test against the clock.
Tour of Oman 2010, stage five
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
2. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
3. Michael Van Stayen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
4. Baden Cooke (Aus) Saxo Bank
5. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
6. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
7. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
8. Roger Kluge (Ger) Team Milram
9. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervelo
10. Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator all same time.
20. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo
26. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo
36. Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky
37. Alex Dowsett (GB) Trek-LiveStrong at same time
113. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 46secs
Overall classification after stage five
1. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo in 15-36-21
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at 2secs
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions at 6secs
4. Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Ag2r
5. Leigh Howard (Aus) HTC-Columbia at same time
6. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank at 10secs
7. Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Katusha ar 11secs
8. Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Saur-Sojasun at 14secs
9. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo at 16secs
10. Sebastien Hinault (Fra) Ag2r at same time.
37. Alex Dowsett (GB) Trek-LiveStrong at 1-06
51. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at 1-21
81. Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky at 2-37
91. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 4-13
Stage five came down to a bunch sprint after the day's break was caught
Daniele Bennati (centre) retained the race lead
Tour of Oman stage four: Sky lose Oman lead in ferocious final hour
Tour of Oman stage three: Boasson Hagen takes stage win
Tour of Oman stage two: Boasson Hagen moves into lead
Tour of Oman 2010, stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Dowsett in escape group in Oman stage 2
Tour of Oman, stage one report: Boasson Hagen secondTour of Oman 2010, stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour of Oman 2010: Preview and guide
Edvald Boasson Hagen: Rider Profile
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