Chris Froome and Team Sky were on the attack at the fourth stage of the Tour of Oman, flexing their muscles ahead of the decisive penultimate stage of the race on the climb of Green Moutain tomorrow (Saturday).
Froome and teammates Mikel Nieve and Sergio Henao tried but failed to establish a lead on the third of four short climbs of Bousher Alamrat on stage four of the race, as each time a headwind forced the bunch back together.
“Each time we would get a small gap and it would come back together again,” Froome said at the finish. “Anyone attacking was pretty much attacking straight into a headwind and making it easy for people to get on the wheel and to follow.”
Froome’s aggression took some of his opposition by surprise; not because of his strength but because of Sky’s usual defensive tactics.
“I was kind of predicting that Sky were going to set their traditional hard tempo but then they started launching attacks which is a bit of a different tactic to what I’m used to them doing,” Tejay van Garderen told CW.
“Quickstep were aggressive the last time up the ascent and Froome put in a monster attack into the headwind and dropped us from his wheel,” he added.
“He’s definitely not playing any poker; he’s letting everyone know how strong he is, and he’s certainly strong.”
Although tomorrow’s climb of Green Mountain is the standout feature of the Tour of Oman, it is a relatively short ascent of 5.7km at an average of 10.5%: essentially a 20 minute effort.
In the three times the mountain has been climbed, no more than one minute 11 seconds has separated the top ten on the stage. Last year Froome finished second to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) by four seconds, 18 seconds ahead of third place Cadel Evans (BMC).
While today Froome was unsuccessful in establishing a lead to defend on tomorrow’s stage, he was lucky that rival Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) didn’t take any time on him with his attack on the descent in to the finish outside the Ministry of Housing.
Perhaps Nibali was anticipating losing time tomorrow, or perhaps it was a show of strength. Either way, when the Italian finished third behind Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) the chasing group of favourites followed just two seconds later.
“It looks like it will all be decided on the climb tomorrow, so whoever has managed to save their legs today, that will definitely come in handy tomorrow,” Froome added.
“From a personal point of view I am really happy with how my legs feel; I feel like I’m in good shape.”