The Tour of Oman (February 17-22) affords Grand Tour hopefuls a chance to stretch their legs as they build towards the season’s bigger goals. With last year’s winner Chris Froome (Sky) electing to skip the race, the way is clear for a new rider to occupy the top step of the podium.
No time trial stage and a stiff climbing test on stage four of the race to Green Mountain means that the race should allow the climbers to prevail. Here we pick out some of the front runners and rate their chances.
Alejandro Valverde, MovistarDiverging from his usual schedule of early-season Spanish races, Alejandro Valverde this eschews the Vuelta a Andalucia (a race he has won three years running) in order to ride the Tour of Oman. Fourth overall at the Dubai Tour suggest the novel conditions aren’t having a negative effect on his usual good early season form, so expect him to have the edge on the Green Mountain.
Joaquim Rodriguez, KatushaUnlike his Spanish counterpart Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez is familiar with the Tour of Oman having finished fourth in each of the last two editions, as well as a stage in 2013. In the absence of two-time winner Froome, ‘Purito’ looks like one of the men most likely to claim his title.
Tejay van Garderen, BMCTejay van Garderen is one of the more unpredictable riders on the startlist, but the American brought with him very good last year, finishing second overall behind Froome. If the American can repeat that performance he’ll have a great chance of winning, although will rue the absence of his a time-trial, his favoured discipline.
Vincenzo Nibali, AstanaTour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali may be the biggest name on the startlist, but tends to build up his form more gradually than some of the other GC riders here. His ride in Dubai last week, where he put turns in at the front working for team sprinter Andrea Guardini, suggests he is still racing to get into shape rather than to win.
We look ahead to the 2015 Tour of Oman (February 17-22): riders, stages, past winners and more
Rafal Majka, Tinkoff-SaxoRafal Majka begins his first season as a fully-fledged grand tour star, and as such the 25-year-old makes his first appearance in the peloton earlier than usual with his first ever ride in Oman. As a rapidly improving rider but still quite raw rider, it’s difficult to tell if he’ll be able to start 2015 with a bang, or whether he’ll need time to get into shape.
Rui Costa, Lampre-MeridaWith his Lampre team not invited to the Portuguese rider’s home race the Volta a Algarve, Rui Costa instead takes on the other big GC names in Oman. This is his first race in the Middle-East so he remains an unknown quantity in these particular conditions, but he usually excels in week long races that are decided in the mountains.
Thibaut Pinot, FDJThe bright young thing in French cycling begins his build-up to the Tour in Oman, but don’t expect Thibaut Pinot to be anywhere near the form that saw him finish on the podium last July. Pinot usually starts the season slowly, so will likely be off the pace.
Leopold Konig, SkyLeopold Konig won’t get many chances to ride for himself in his new team, so will be seeking to make the most of the chance to do so in Oman. The field is strong, however, and he’ll do well to make the top five.
Ones to Watch
Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
Fast becoming one of the top riders in the peloton, Alexander Kristoff has started 2015 in formidable fashion, winning three stages at the Tour of Qatar. He’s likely to add to that tally in Oman, and is currently the fastest sprinter on the start-list.
Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-Saxo
Such is Peter Sagan’s omnipresence in the peloton that it may come as a surprise to learn that he hasn’t actually won a race since last June. Team owner Oleg Tinkov wants him to win ‘one or two’ classics this spring, and a stage win in Oman would go some way to inspiring confidence that he can.
Nacer Bouhanni, Cofidis
It’s been a slow start for Nacer Bouhanni at his new team, but there’s plenty of opportunities for him to get into form and win a stage in the opening days of the Tour of Oman. He opened his season’s account here in 2013, and will be hoping to do the same this year.