Again we return to Oman, the Paris-Roubiax of the Middle East, the Belgium of the shifting desert sands.
Liquigas’ Peter Sagan won the uphill sprint to Wadi Dayqah Dam, crushing everyone who didn’t possess his freakish combination of power and speed. The final kilometer hit grades of 8% before flattening out in the last 300 meters — most sprinters didn’t even bother to try.
The brutal finish had Sagan written all over it and while Baden Cooke made an inspired run at victory, he settled for second. Tom Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) took third but nobody even came close to the Slovak rider.
If you were caught in a bar fight and had your choice of tough guy Andre Greipel or Sagan for back-up, it would be a tough call. Sagan is built like a wrestler and he’s ripped.
“It was a good finish for me but it’s never easy to win,” said Sagan. “I went quite early because it seemed that the others were already starting their sprints. After that, it came as it came.”
All of bike-racing crazy Oman rejoiced in Sagan’s victory. School children in this country are required to learn the story of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and Eddy Merckx. Now they shall sing the praises of the lime green champion. Besides, The Liquigas sponsor is a perfect match in the petroleum rich Middle East.
Sagan also slips on the red jersey of overall leader, displacing Greipel by four seconds with Cooke in third. Watch out for fabulous Fabian Cancellara in tenth.
Revered Mid East cycling journalist Abdul Al Salaam joined the riders on their two hour ferry ride down the Gulf of Oman. He said all the riders were laughing at the on board movie feature Ace Ventura, Pet Detective starring Jim Carrey — everyone except Sagan. “A killer does not laugh. A killer sharpens his dagger,” said Salaam. “Do not be fooled by the smile of a child or your blood will stain the desert sand.” Phil Liggett has never spoken with such insight.
The fruitless but necessary breakaway was brought to you by BMC’s Martin Kohler and Klaas Lodewijk along with David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat) and Diego Caccia (Farnese Vini). The riders carved out three minutes but then like a mirage, their lead vanished.
The wide, flat roads gave way to twists and turns as the race went into the hills toward Wadi Dayqah Dam. A sharp climb with eight kilometers left failed to dislodge riders but did discourage the pure sprinters.
Still, who doesn’t want a big win in Oman, an almost Classic, a Belgian hardpan’s race thrown onto the burning sands. The Sultan arranged for a million dollars worth of frites to be flown in from Antwerp. Local fans could be seen cheering the racers as they sampled their Belgian delicacy.
GreenEdge, Sky, Lotto Belisol and Liquigas-Cannondale all worked to gain advantage in the final moments. Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) tried to catch everyone by surprise by jumping with 900 meters. He never made it to the final left hand turn before they nailed him back.
World Champion Mark Cavendish contented himself with 95th place. Sagan did far better than that.
Stay tuned for all the action in Oman. It may not have a velodrome but it’s like Paris-Roubaix every single day.