Tour of Oman preview

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Tour of Oman starts tomorrow. You might have seen images from Qatar but just because pro cycling continues in the Gulf region, don’t think this race is the same. Instead the Tour of Oman is very different, whether it is the landscapes, the country, the people or the vicious summit finish on Stage 5.

There are of course similarities between the races in Qatar and Oman. They are both co-organised by local committees with help from ASO, organisers of the Tour de France and more. They both feature a single base hotel where teams and media alike are based for the week. Both take place in countries without any local cycling culture. Both offer warm sunshine and racing miles away from icy European roads.

Flat roads and mountains alike

But Oman is a very different country. Qatar has gone from desert-dwelling nomads to tall skyscrapers in a century but Oman has far more history, at one point its Sultan ruled lands stretching down the coast well into Africa and across the Indian ocean into Pakistan. There are old castles and ruins and as well as sandy deserts, mountains, oases and fishing villages. It’s a far more scenic place to hold a bike race. It’s also got a large population and a large share of Omanis are under-25, so expect to see pictures of riders alongside many local kids in their white dishdasha gowns.

The country is ruled by Sultan and if there are no elections, they say Sultan Qaboos is an enlightened leader who has done much to transform the country by opening schools and hospitals, providing water and more. The country’s challenge is to grow, it has oil and gas but not in the big quantities enjoyed by neighbours. It’s here that the bike race fits in, it is part of the Festival of Muscat, a series of cultural events designed to bring in tourists and their spending power. Whilst few will visit to see the bike race, perhaps the scenery and TV images might tempt. Oman has also bid for the World Championships, look for the finishing circuit on Stage 4 as a clue to the potential circuit.

Stage 5

Stage 5 finishes with 5km at 10%

If Qatar saw stages average close to 50km/h and riders spinning out in top gear, Oman will see riders needing some very low gears but there are stages for sprinters and climbers alike. Stage 1 has a very gradual uphill finish, Stage 2 has some short and sharp hills towards the end. Half of Stage 3 is downhill as it starts from high inland. Stage 4 has two climbs and then a finishing circuit that passes the race HQ hotel but features a lung-busting climb three times. Stage 5 will settle the race with the climb up the Jebel Al Akhdar, the Green Mountain, a 5km ascension that averages 10% but finishes with two kilometres at 13%. Stage 6 has a finishing circuit in the capital of Muscat, a flat finish for the sprinters.

Bonus time
Time bonuses apply with three, two and one seconds at intermediate sprints and ten, six and four seconds for the first three at the finish line. Oman isn’t as wealthy as Qatar but they’ve put up more money for the race with a total of €111,480 to be won, with €10,000 for the overall winner.

Recovery session

Lap of luxury
Riders stay in the Shangri La resort which includes a six star hotel and a buffet that will test the self-restraint of many a rider. The downside of staying in one place is the transfer to the start of each stage, this can take three hours. Stage 2 starts with a difference as riders take a two hour speedboat journey to the start in the coastal town of Sur.

Contenders
Even the stages marked for the sprinters are not flat, we will see more varied results. Last year saw Matt Goss emerge with a stage win, an early hint of Milan-San Remo. Goss is back and look to others like Peter Sagan to feature. For the overall, Christian Vande Velde, Jacob Fuglsang, Joaquin Rodriguez, Peter Velits, Vincenzo Nibali, Martin Tjallingi are there to watch. The same goes for Andy Schleck who is there without his brother Frank, the Radioshack-Nissan team are trying to make the brothers less dependent on each other.

A thought for last year’s winner Robert Gesink. He won solo on the Green Mountain and dedicated the win to his father who had died over the winter. In late 2011 he crashed in training and broke his leg and he resumes racing but this time not in Oman but the Ruta del Sol in Spain later this week.

TV
For all the scenery and mountain finishes there’s no live TV coverage. Eurosport are doing a daily highlights package and look out for video clips on Youtube.

Pulling rank
Like Qatar, the Tour of Oman is HC-rated, meaning it has a higher status – in pure ranking terms – than other races like the 2.2 Giro di Reggio Calabria that is currently on in the “toe” of Italy or the 2.1 Ruta del Sol. For more on these classifications, see the 2012 Calendar page.

Summary
A very different country which promises a very different result. Instead of crosswinds and time bonuses, the Tour of Oman should be settled by the giant climb of the Green Mountain and its double-digit gradients. But before that we’ll get a variety of stages for sprinters and all-rounders.

Finally if anyone wants an example of how to use cycle sport for tourist promotion, see the promotional clip below.

flahutespyjamas February 13, 2012 at 10:53 am

I lived in Oman for five years as a child and it is a truly beautiful country. I would love to go back and ride around the interior Jebels. Need a touring bike for that.

Ilaria February 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

Very nice preview :) As far as me, Oman is a country I would like to visit, def. It looks beautiful and insteresting. The race too will be interesting and it`s a pity we will have just highlights. Do you know why, given that Eurosport showed Qatar live? I mean, Qatar was sprints the most so hightlights would have suited it better…

Gerald February 13, 2012 at 11:08 am

Thanks for the great preview. Looking forward to seeing the racing.

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

flahutespyjamas: the riders seem to say the same thing, it’s a place to visit.

Ilaria: there’s no live TV, a shame. I’ll go and edit the piece above to mention the TV coverage.

Cykelbøger February 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Great preview.
I actually think Sylvain Chavanel could do quite good here. Just a feeling.

H M February 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Great Review. Minor typo in second para second line “local local”. Thanks for brightening up my Monday morning.

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Cykelbøger: he was climbing very well in the Tour de San Luis but the Jebel Al Akhdar might be too much for him. Perhaps a stage win?

HM: thanks

Tour of Oman February 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

The plateau at Jebel Akhdar is 2,000 meters! are they going to the top?
The race goes past my home in Muscat – looking forward to that on Friday

jimmyla February 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I’ve been riding in Oman for 3 years now and am really excited about watching stage 4 live! – Some really narrow, hilly, technical riding to set up the tough finishing circuit – proper classics terrain. Seems stange, therefore, that Gilbert chose Qatar over Oman.

Some of the guys were saying how tough Jabal Akdhar was last year – really does suit a true climber and as Andy Schleck is also here and it will be interesting to see how fit he is. Leopard seemed overly relaxed last year but a win here would be a good start for Radioshak I would have thought.

Rabobank need a result too after Qatar and as Sky have no GC man with Michael Barry’s injury they will put all their egg in Cavs basket and he looks super fit. Thats going to be tough for Renshaw! Pressure’s on!

Breakaway Artist February 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Inrng,
You wrote : “Both take place in countries with local cycling culture”
Could you specify?
I am curious, because, from here (meaning looking at the coverage and photos and videos on Cyclingnews for example), there seems to be a total disinterest in cycling in these countries.
Thanks!

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Breakaway Artist: a typo that has since been fixed, thanks!

CAT4Fodder February 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Question for anyone out there:

I think the Tour of Oman is actually a cool little race. But the Inner Ring provide some understanding as to how the UCI is promoting cycling within these countries (aside from the fact that some rich Sultan is paying the ASO and UCI gobs of money to hold these races to satisfy their interests and put a spotlight in on these countries?).

For example, are there youth programs, amateur programs or other programs to raise the profile of the sport (and at the very least, push the concept of riding a bike to the population as a whole? Otherwise, with no live TV coverage, and from the looks of the attendance of these races, limited interest from the local population, I wonder how this really fits into the UCI’s definition of “promoting the sport”. It seems to me, a better option (if sun and weather are the driving factors here), keep racing in Argentina/Chile or maybe move a race down to Arizona.

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm

CAT4Fodder: the UCI isn’t promoting much here, these are just races run under UCI rules. That’s about it really. The UCI is more actively involved in other races and has other means to promote the sport, for example academies in Asia and Africa to help develop talented riders.

Jimmyla February 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Cat4fodder.

the tour is like the acorn from which cycling is growing. Omanis are the most laid back people and they love their committees. So all that stuff is in the pipeline & it will come inshallah.

In terms of promoting the sport there is real
Interest here about cycling but it is a complex sport (as an example half of muscat was there for the first stage in 2009 which soon drifted off when it was neutralised ). Cycling could really grow here if given time and Oman is quite capable of learning to do that itself.

CAT4Fodder February 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Inner Ring and Jimmyla:

Well – I hope this sport continues to grow in Oman. This is a country, which, if you think about it, outside of potential current security concerns, be one hell of a cycling destination. Awesome winter weather, sun, mountain galore….

But what frustrates me is that the UCI is interested in promoting this sport, but it seems, only when the GCP is involved.

Playvelo February 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Thanks for the great write up. Agreed, it’s a shame there is no live coverage.

Laurens Ten Dam might be the Rabobank rider to watch this week. Marco Pinotti?

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Playvelo: two of the nicest guys in the peloton but they’ll have some rivals.

Darren February 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm

jimmyla: gilbert said in an interview a few days ago that he will skip Oman as it is 5degree or so hotter than Qatar and he wants to get ready for European races soon where it will be much cooler!

had an aunt whose 2nd husband was brit diplomat based in Oman! She worked as ‘assistant’ to a prince and they had their own quarters in palace…more like a villa within the palace! Needless to say she enjoyed her life there!

a different ben February 14, 2012 at 1:06 am

The most awkward man on a podium award must go to Robert Gesink. Just how tall is he?

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