Who better to hack up the competition in the Middle East than the rider they call Spartacus?
Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) used a strong second place in the final time trial to win the inaugural Tour of Oman. Meanwhile, Evald Boasson Hagen got a measure of revenge by winning the stage, erasing the bad memory of his disastrous nature call two days previous.
Fast rising young talent Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Transitions) showed his skill in taking third place in the race against the clock and jumping into third overall. Somehow, someway, Garmin usually finds a way to grab a stage. While Tyler Farrar missed his shots, Meyer made his mark on the 18.6km course around the capital city in Muscat.
So ended the thrilling, exotic, surprising and exceptionally well run Tour of Oman. Kudos to Eddy Merckx, the Municipality of Muscat and the boys from Amaury Sport Organization (ASO).
Back in Europe the rest of the pro riders endured rain, snow and generally miserable weather. Not here in sunny Oman. The riders not only enjoyed the beautiful (though occasionally hot) weather and solid training but also appreciated the warm welcome and cultural exchange.
“It’s great to win but most of all it’s been a fascinating trip. The Oman people are special. We get hung up about so many things but they know how to enjoy life,” Cancellara said.
“It was nice to be in real contact with the people and see them along the roadside cheering for us. No other sport allows such close contact like that and it made racing here pretty special.”
Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) took away far more than some hard racing kilometers from his trip to Oman. “On television, this part of the world seems quite dangerous because we’re near Yemen and just across the gulf from Iran, but it’s totally the opposite to what I expected,” said Pinotti.
“Oman is an Islamic country, but everyone is friendly and quite open. They way they welcomed us is a clear sign for both us and for them that we can all live together. I hope this event continues in the future because it can only help different countries, continents and culture understand each other better.”
The young Boasson Hagen is not yet at the age to offer cultural assessments. He did however admit to hitting 100km/h on the descent of the second climb. Eddy Junior, slow down, wave to the locals, it’s good race karma. Still no word on whether the Norwegian got an Arabic tattoo while in Muscat — a tat and a podium placing, not a bad haul.
And so we must also leave behind revered Arabic cycling commentator Abdul Al Salaam, who has enlivened the race with his predictions and amusing presence. Now blind and in failing health, the former soigneur of Merckx and Hinault stood at roadside during the time trial, correctly guessing the exact speed of each racer based simply on the sound of the tires.
An amazing character — we hope to see him next year. Chapeau Omani cycling fans.