THE TOUR OF OMAN came to its conclusion yesterday with Mark Cavendish (HTC-High Road) taking his first win of the season in the final stage bunch sprint.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) finished the stage in the peloton behind Cavendish to seal the overall victory after six days of racing, 1’13″ ahead of nearest challenger Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) in second and 1’19″ ahead of Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli) in third.
The An Post-Sean Kelly team took their final opportunity of racing in such illustrious company by once again forming part of the day’s breakaway. Mark Cassidy, for the second time in the race, instigated a breakaway of five riders. But the relatively flat final stage was expertly controlled by the sprinters’ teams as the break’s lead never reached much more than three minutes before being reeled in.
Of the five road stages in this year’s Tour of Oman, An Post-Sean Kelly had a rider in the breakaway on every stage. This is a remarkable achievement in itself as it is not merely a decision taken by the team to place a rider in a breakaway. A rider must be in the right place at the right time early in the stage to make it into the breakaway. There are many groups that form and try and leave the peloton at the start of the day’s racing, but it’s only when the rest of the peloton are happy with the composition of the break (ie that there are no riders in a position to threaten the GC), that the break is allowed to go clear for the day.
For a team of the stature of An Post-Sean Kelly, to have a rider in the breakaway on just one stage of the Tour of Oman would have been excellent, but to have managed it on all five occasions where it was possible is truly impressive.
The team’s aggressive display led to plenty of ‘TV time’ on Eurosport’s daily race coverage which has boosted their profile in world cycling. The team also managed two top 10 places with Belgians Niko Eeckhout and Pieter Ghyllebert finishing eighth on Stage Three and seventh on Stage Six respectively. Their best place finisher overall was also Gyhllebert who ended up in 51st place, over 15 minutes behind overall leader Gesink. Mark Cassidy finished the race in 79th while Sam Bennett was 123rd.
This year’s Tour of Oman was a significant milestone for overall winner Robert Gesink. For a rider with aspirations of winning the Tour de France, until yesterday, he had not won a stage race for five years. The foundations of his overall victory were laid by his success on the mountainous Stage Four, which he won after attacking on the final climb and soloing home with an advantage of 47 seconds over Boasson Hagen who finished second on the day and second overall.
But what was perhaps more impressive, was his performance in Saturday’s Stage Five time trial, which he also won. This was his first ever professional victory in an individual time trial. Winning a stage race by conquering the only mountain stage and the only time trial, will give Gesink huge confidence for the rest of the season as he builds towards the Tour in July.
Daniel Martin was also in action this weekend as he raced in the two-day Tour du Haut Var, which was won overall by the French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), a previous winner in 2009. Martin finished in 64th position on Stage One, just nine seconds behind stage winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis). But on yesterday’s final stage, Martin was one of 54 riders who didn’t finish the race after new professional Julien Antomarchi (VC La Pomme Marseille) crossed the line in first place.
Voeckler had attacked with 7km to go and Antomarchi latched on to him. The two riders were about to arrive at the finish with about a 30 second gap back to five other riders. Having taken third place on the previous day’s stage, Voeckler knew the advantage he held on the road was enough to grant him the overall victory. Consequently, on the finishing straight, Voeckler waved Antomarchi through to take his first professional victory unchallenged, safe in the knowledge that he would win the race overall. Both riders crossed the finish line with arms aloft in celebration.
Nicolas Roche completed the five-stage Volta ao Algarve yesterday in a solid but unspectacular 56th place, over six minutes behind the eventual winner. He will be happy to have the race’s 725km in his legs after recovering from a knee problem earlier in the year. The race was won by the 2007 Rás winner, Tony Martin, who also won the final time trial. Alberto Contador, racing despite the ongoing disciplinary proceedings against him having tested positive for Clenbuterol during last year’s Tour de France, finished the race in fourth place overall. Roche’s next race will be the GP dell’Insubria Lugano on Saturday 26th February. In last year’s edition of this hilly one-day race, Roche finished in an excellent third place.