The desert race faces an uncertain future as organisers look for funding for the race through to 2021
The Tour of Oman, which Team Sky’s Chris Froome won twice, may run for the final time next month if the city of Muscat does not agree to fund it for 2017 and beyond.
The current contract ends with the seventh edition next month, February 17 to 22. Eddy Merckx and race co-owner Dirk De Pauw are trying to renew funding of the race through 2021.
“It’s the last tour…for time being it is,” Habib Al Zawawi, Supervisor of Sports Events and Tour of Oman at Muscat Municipality, told Times of Oman.
“There will be negotiations. So it depends. Either to renew it or if that [2016 edition] will be the last one. The original agreement was for five years.
“The first edition of 2010 was a test. It wasn’t [an] official event. 2016 will be the last one. But it depends, there will be negotiations during the tour. By the end of tour, we will come to know. There will be official announcement about it.”
Watch: Tour Down Under 2016 essential guide
Merckx told Cycling Weekly in February 2015 that he is optimistic to continue the 2.HC-ranked stage race that follows on the heels of the Tour of Qatar.
“We will probably agree to organise the Tour of Oman for another five years,” Merckx said.
“The Omani want it because they saw the publicity that Qatar had for their tourism. Cycling’s the only sport that shows off the country, in other sports, you only see the stadium or the court, it’s not the same. Cycling shows the country. Oman and Qatar are for tourism.”
The newspaper reported that the organiser is spending two million in local currency, or £3.6 million, to run the 2016 race.
Spaniard Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) won in 2015 and Froome in 2014 and 2013. Sky, however, is among several top teams including Trek, Tinkoff, Movistar and Orica skipping this year’s race and the Tour of Qatar beforehand.
Sky’s sports director Servais Knaven told Cycling Weekly, “Qatar is good but you also have to do Oman, and Oman is probably not the best preparation for [Omloop] Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne [February 27 and 28], so people want to try to do something else and get the best out of everyone. We say in Dutch, there are different roads to Rome.”
In 2015, extreme wind and heat swept over the Arabian Peninsula. Cyclists stopped, argued and forced the organiser to cancel the fifth stage. Merckx said at the time that the locals were “very angry with a few riders and some teams may not be invited back.”
Knaven added, “[Our decision not to race] had nothing to do all with that.”
The 2016 edition will still see several top teams arrive from the WorldTour with possible stars including Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Daniel Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Richie Porte (BMC).