The conclusions from a great week of racing in Spain, Portugal, and Oman.
1. Astana and Team Sky dominate
The British team weren’t present at the Tour of Oman, leaving Miguel Angel Lopez to lead home Alexey Lutsenko for an Astana one-two on the summit finish to Green Mountain, with that order reversed in the final GC.
Meanwhile back in Europe, at Ruta del Sol the first summit finish was largely animated by Sky’s Wout Poels and the Astana duo of Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang, with David de la Cruz also winning the concluding time trial, while at the Volta ao Algarve, Team Sky won three of the five stages, with Michal Kwiatkowski heading up a Sky one-two in the GC ahead of Geraint Thomas.
2. Sprints remain wide open
One of the things that was remarkable about the Tour Down Under was how the sprinters shared the spoils, with André Greipel the only man to win more than one stage, and that trend has continued in the latest races.
Dylan Groenewegen was able to take two victories at the Volta ao Algarve, but at the Ruta del Sol the flat stages were taken by Thomas Boudat and Sacha Modolo, and Bryan Coquard, Magnus Cort Nielsen, and Alexander Kristoff were all able to taste victory at the Tour of Oman.
That means that the only big-name sprinter still searching for his first victory of the season is Marcel Kittel (although the likes of Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare also remain win-less), something that he will be hoping to rectify at the Abu Dhabi Tour which starts on Tuesday.
3. Chris Froome back in action
As usual, the Ruta del Sol delivered a cracking few days of action, but for many, at least those outside cycling’s committed fan-base, this was all about Chris Froome’ return to action in the middle of an anti-doping investigation.
Froome’s presence created a media frenzy around what is typically a rather low-key race, with the size of the scrum of journalists outside the Team Sky bus rivalling those seen at the Tour de France.
However what was good was that once the racing was underway – and certainly during the last couple of stages – the focus was on the racing, which was excellent throughout. This may have been helped by the fact that Froome finished in a largely anonymous 10th place overall, but it was still great that the racing came to the fore through the week.
4. Alcalá de los Gazules climb delivers action
Grand Tours often take cues from smaller races in designing courses, and there’s a lot that the Vuelta a España could learn from this year’s Ruta del Sol.
Short, sharp finish climbs are fairly common at the Vuelta (especially compared to the Tour de France), but the Alcalá de los Gazules provided more action that most, with its cobbled surface allowing a different type of rider to shine in the shape of Belgian Tim Wellens.
The dirt roads of the final time trial were also an interesting feature, but it would be great to see steep cobbled climbs featuring in the final kilometre of Vuelta stages in order to really shake up the GC, especially in the first week of the race.
5. The Tour of Oman continues to be the best race that no one can watch
Talk to riders about the Tour of Oman and it’s rare that they a bad word to say. This is no race of five flat stages through boring desert, with testing terrain, uphill and bona fide summit finishes, and generally great roads for racing.
Once again this year the race provided great action from start to finish… or at least we like to think so, with there once again not being any live television coverage.
Tour de France organisers ASO have just signed a six-year extension to run the Tour of Oman, and we’ll have our fingers crossed that they introduce live TV coverage as soon as possible.