Welcome to the Tour of Oman, the Big O, the Paris-Roubaix of the Middle East. In a royal degree last year, Sultan Qaboos has officially named Oman the Belgium of the Sands.
The ProTeams have arrived from Qatar and the stage race begins Tuesday at the Alam Royal Palace. Oman isn’t the dull, flat desert highways of Qatar but an exciting and varied course with a queen stage climb up the Green Mountain. Last year Rabobank’s Robert Gesink dedicated his emotional solo victory on the mountain to the memory of his father who had died over the winter.
Famed muslim cycling journalist Abdul Al Salaam has agreed to give Twisted Spoke his unique analysis of the race — for a detailed story on Salaams’ fascinating personal story click here.
Salaam sees a wide open and unpredictable race in Oman with overall victory going to any number of riders. “I like this Rodriguez — he is like a cobra in a small basket,” said Salaam. “You lift the lid and he strikes. We shall see him attack on the Jabal Al Akhdhar. His bite is fierce.”
The aging journalist, now afflicted with failing eyesight, is still revered in the world of professional bike racing. Omega-Pharma Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere called Salaam “a wise man, a tactical genius.”
Besides Rodriguez, Salaam believes that Peter Velits (Omega-Pharma) will be dangerous. “We say in Oman, you kill a man with two daggers,” said Salaam. “The first cuts the throat, the second cuts the heart. He is a skinny man with two daggers — beware.”
Salaam expects little from RadioShack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck, who goes to race in Oman without his brother Frank. “I have spoken with Johan and it is good, he must learn to move the bike without his brother. In the desert, there is only enough water for one. He must drink alone,” said Salaam.
For the flatter stages, Salaam has picked out Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan at the most likely winner. “I observed him at the Shangri La resort yesterday. The buffet was regal yet he took but a small bowl of pasta. His legs are like a camel who has crossed the Sahara,” said Salaam. “Goss had no chance against such force but perhaps this man Kittel will show his strength.”
Salaam reserves a special affection for classics star Tom Boonen who raced in Oman many times. “Tom is a warrior and a poet. We have spent several nights drinking tea and speaking of life’s mysteries. He was in love with my grand-daughter Lakia but his price of seven donkeys was too small for such a princess.”
After a difficult and disappointing season last year, Boonen consulted with Salaam on race tactics and recovery and the challenge of beating rival Fabian Cancellara. “Both hands must go into the fire — that is what I have told him,” said Salaam. “Then there is no pain, only force. Boonen will triumph over the Swiss champion. So it is written.”
Abdul Al Salaam will be providing his unique perspective on the Tour of Oman after each stage — and only on Twisted Spoke.