Peter Sagan (Cannondale) repeated his win of a year ago at the Wadi Dayqah Dam as he claimed his second consecutive stage on day three of the Tour of Oman.
It was a finale that had Sagan's name written all over it, with rolling roads featuring the kind of short, steep climbs on which he excels. Indeed, so confident was his team that he would win that they parked the team car at the dam, just beyond the finish line, in anticipation of their man being required for podium duties. The others were parked at the bottom of the hill for the riders to make a quick getaway.
It was the longest stage, at 190km, much of it into a headwind, which meant that not much happened until the final, testing 20km. Apart, of course, from Bobbie Traksel (Champion System) featuring in the break, for the third day in a row.
In the final hour Sky and Omega Pharma-QuickStep were prominent at the front, but it was BMC who really took the initiative inside the final 5km, on the final rolling climbs before the dam. It wasn't clear whether this was for their world champion, Philippe Gilbert, or Greg Van Avermaet, though Gilbert later conceded that Van Avermaet was better placed: "Greg was in a better position than me and he followed Sagan."
They could do nothing but wait for the Sagan attack. It came around 600 metres from the line. "I remembered that the final was pretty tough," said the Slovakian. "I was ahead and [Marco] Bandiera [IAM] attacked. I went after him, then there were another 100 metres uphill and I thought I needed to go alone for the [final] flast section.
"It was hard today because most of the day we were going against the wind," continued Sagan. "In the group, you were OK and then my team-mates worked to take me to the [front for the] climb."
Sagan kept the leader's red jersey but ruled out a successful defence on Thursday's stage to Green Mountain. "The other riders are too strong on that type of climb. It's a true climb: 6km. I don't think I'll be able to keep [within] 20 seconds of them."
While Tony Gallopin (RadioShack Leopard) was up there for a second day, finishing third, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), in fourth, demonstrated that he might be the man to follow on Green Mountain. Chris Froome (Sky) was also up there, 13th on the stage.
"It was a relatively slow day until the final where it all kicked off," said Froome. "The team did a great job looking after me, keeping me at the front till the final few kilometres. On the finish I didn't have the legs to follow Sagan and Contador. But I'm happy with my form, and I'm in a much better position than I was this time last year. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's decisive stage."
This lesser hilltop finish was one on which Sagan might have expected to be challenged by Gilbert, though he played down the significance of Gilbert's relatively lowly seventh place, four seconds down. "It's only the second race for me and many others, like Gilbert," said Sagan. "I don't think we are at our best yet. It's still too soon. We'll see. I hope that I can also arrive with this sort of form for the Classics, not only here."
He is convinced he has room for improvement over the coming weeks. "I also won here last year, so I think that it's time to start winning. It relaxes me mentally. I still don't think I'm in my best condition. I can improve a lot for the classics. I've started well, let's see how it goes there. The Classics are my big objectives."
The others have been warned.
Tour of Oman 2013, stage three: Nakhal Fort to Wadi Dayqah Dam, 190km
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 1 sec
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Leopard
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff
5. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM at same time
6. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox at 4 secs
7. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r
9. Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
10. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ at same time
13. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 9 secs
Overall classification after stage three
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale in 12-59-43
2. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Leopard at 16 secs
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 26 secs
4. Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling at 30 secs
5. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ at 31 secs
6. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM at 32 secs
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 32 secs
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 33 secs
9. Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 35 secs
10. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox at 35 secs
13. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 36 secs
Early escape group
Bradley Wiggins on the front
"Where's everyone else?" Peter Sagan celebrates the win
Chris Froome finishes
Tour of Oman 2013: Preview and coverage index
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