Oman, oh boy. No, really.
The Tour of Oman is almost upon us and we have taken the extra step of downloading the iPhone app. Yes, we have Oman on hand 24/7 and that feels good. Like having the Vine app or Spotify or Minecraft. I am good to go into the desert.
Oman is everything that the tedious, boring, deserted Tour of Qatar isn’t. Most of the stages take in beautiful coastal roads at some point in the route. The terrain is far more varied and then there is a real, actual mountain with a poetic name — the Green Mountain, Jabal Al Akhdar, the highest point in Oman.
In other words, there are climbers in the race and they get to climb something instead of the endless flat, dusty roads of Qatar. If ever people could sleep-pedal like they sleepwalk, then Qatar would be the place. The Tour of Oman feels like a genuine race while Qatar is simply wind practice for classics squads. A great place to fly kites and get your echelon work in.
Oman, on the other hand, is the favorite race of the Middle East’s most famous cycling commentator Abdul Al Salaam. The man had an incredibly varied career that’s definitely worth the read. While he was okay with Qatar and never saw Dubai, he was a huge supporter of the Tour of Oman. Sadly, he is now close to death and unable to attend any races.
The absence of a time trail this year promises to make this even more of a climber’s race. Chris Froome is skipping the Big O and not defending his crown so that opens up the podium to somebody new. And that would be …?
It would be easy to draw this up as a battle between two Spaniards: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and pocket rocket Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Hard to argue with Valverde — although Rodriguez sure would like to. Tejay van Garderen was second last year but the absence of a time trial will cut his odds significantly. We also suspect he’s going to dial things up a little slower than last year not that he’s secure in his BMC tour captain role. Vincenzo Nibali is still in tranquillo mode and we don’t expect anything very special from him other than a top 10-15 on the Green Mountain.
In the mix: Rafal Majka, Tinkoff-Saxo. Team owner Oleg Tinkov hasn’t promised Majka an Aston Martin if he wins in Oman like he did for the Tour de France. Personally we would have promised a dune buggy for the overall but Oleg welched on his offer even though Majka did deliver his side of the bargain — two stage wins. Does he have the early season form to drop Valverde on Jabal Al Akhdar? Wouldn’t count on it.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is also mentioned as a big name for Oman but really, there’s no expectation or pressure for him to make any sort of impression at this time of the season. We don’t really expect to here his name until July.
Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) is a rider you can never discount and he does well in the week long stage races. He’s like Valverde-Lite to us. Always near the front, generally in good form no matter what the time of year but less skilled than Valverde in closing the deal. Not that Valverde is always good at nailing the top step.
Our dark horse would be Leopold Konig (Sky). With a name like that he sounds like a character from a Wes Anderson movie — say, Hotel Budapest. An up-and-coming talent, he would have very much room to show it at Sky. This might be one of those races where there’s no Froome and no Richie Porte and he has a free hand. Maybe he gets lucky and springs a surprise.
Our heart says Rodriguez but logic will prevail and that means Valverde. Much to our displeasure.