It was heartbreak for the breakaway at the Tour of Oman on Tuesday, as the three remaining riders were caught in the closing 500 metres of the 131km stage four.
The group had originally comprised five, but the triple ascent of Al Jabal Street saw only three enter the long finishing straight. But with glory so close they could nearly touch it, the bunch swallowed them within sight of the line.
One of those three hopefuls was Katusha-Alpecin’s Ian Boswell, who was clearly disheartened as he spoke to team mates in the immediate aftermath, complaining of a lack of cohesion as the race reached its climax.
“Sometimes when you get that close to the finish it’s easy to get frustrated when tactics overcome effort. That’s racing though,” he told Cycling Weekly ruefully.
The break had come together after a tough fight during the opening 20km of the 131km stage, with the Astana team of Alexey Lutsenko refusing to allow any threat to his general classification lead up the road.
Eventually a group of five formed, though two of those were later dropped on the second of three ascents of Al Jabal Street, all of which came in the closing 56km. The closing kilometres saw Boswell, Darwin Atapuma (Cofidis) and Nathan Van Hooydonck (CCC) at the front of the race.
Behind, despite having his team-mate and compatriot up the road, Van Avermaet set his team to work to close a gap which was becoming threatening. However, the three escapees crested the final climb just 27km out, holding a lead of 1-30.
“We made it to the last climb with myself, Atapuma and Van Hooydonck and when CCC started working he stopped working, and when when they stopped working he started," explained 28-year-old Boswell. "We got to 10km and I said we might stay away, but the final five K was a headwind and he just stopped working again.
“For them it’s more important that Van Avermaet wins, but if we’re honest he [Van Hooydonck] knows he could smoke us in a sprint, he was the strongest on this type of course.
“To my detriment I get the short end of the stick a bit because I just keep my head down and let my legs do the talking.”
Boswell’s frustration comes after a day to forget on Monday’s third stage, when he was caught out in crosswinds and finished way down on the uphill finish at Qurayyat.
“I was a bit disappointed yesterday that I wasn’t in the front group, not for lack of fitness or form, just wrong place wrong time. It happens, so I tried to make the break today.
"I took something away from today in that one of my goals is to make the Tour team and in order to do that I need to improve my ability to be in breakaways and win stages, so it’s a positive and I got some practice today.”
While the stage victory didn’t come his way, winning all six intermediate sprints and classified climbs will come as some consolation for Boswell.
After the Tour Oman, the American heads to Paris-Nice before riding the Tour of the Basque Country and the Ardennes Classics.
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