Roads to Ride: Jebel Al Akhdar

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Queen Stage of the Tour of Oman finishes on the Jebel Al Akhdar, the “Green Mountain”. A tough climb that should decide the race, it’s also a unique ride in a landscape that is very different to the typical “Alpine” climb.


The Route

The Jebel Al Akhdar is just one part of the Al Hajar mountain range. This climb starts near the town of Birkat Al-Mouz and proceeds north into the mountains. The Tour of Oman stops after 6km… but the road and the climb goes on for twice as long.

The Feel
There can’t be a friendlier to a climb as police greet you before starting the climb. They’re reviewing all the cars, only 4×4 cars are allowed up as it’s so steep. But once the greeting is down you quickly understand that going up will be hard worry about the descent, both for your brakes and that of drivers. It’s steep and crushingly so, the road hits 10% from the start. Progress is slow and the landscape is so big that right from the start you feel small.

The road passes by slowly. In “At Speed” Mark Cavendish mentions how a long finishing straight can prove fatal for some sprinters, they launch their sprint too early because they see the finish line arch from afar and think it’s near. Well this would be Cav’s nightmare, climbing invokes the same miscalculation but on an exponential scale, that “next bend” will take three minutes to reach.

For better or worse the Tour of Oman’s ascent is arbitrary, a finish line erected midway on the climb. The road goes on…and on… well after the Tour’s finish line. Presumably they don’t need anything longer for the race. But the visiting cyclist must ride on to the top.

Green Mountain? Do not adjust your set

The road itself is impressive, high quality tarmac and with long ramps and wide sweeping hairpin bends, a civil engineering delight and perhaps excessive given only small villages sit at the top but it seems designed to allow Omanis easy access to the mountain cool. Eventually the road ends on the plateau but there’s no mountain pass or obvious end point with roads and tracks going off to the side in different places.

It wasn’t apparent from the start but it might remind some of the Col de Laffrey. Near Grenoble in France this climb is on a main road and an infamous accident blackspot; it was long used by a truck company to test the brakes. In the mind it’s as if an asteroid landed close to the Laffrey and the area was blow-torched dry of vegetation, stripping back the landscape to the rock while the tarmac road and street furniture – oddly it has street lights – survive the inferno. It’s all so dry, “green” seem inappropriate compared to the lush Alpine pastures but there is water around – the start town if Bizkat has lush date palms fed by trickling falaj streams, the nearby town of Nizwa has a large ford to ride across and they grow crops in the mountains that can’t be cultivated elsewhere.

Most other climbs in this series have been scaled several times or if not, similar climbs have been done at different times of the year. But this has been done only once, in February and it’s hard to imagine in the blaze of the summer heat.

Cycling in Oman: as a sport it’s not big but you’ll see some expats out for a ride and one or two locals. Hundreds of kids – the country has a young demographic – rattle around on rusty steeds. It’s safe cycling, people seem surprised by the cyclist. You’ll get cheered up the Jebel Al Akhdar, presumably in the say way Westerners go “wow” when they see a camel wandering across the landscape as it’s the first time you see it.

History and Future: amongst cycling fans this climb is famous for the race which has climbed up here twice already. The Tour of Oman’s future is unsure after 2015 but there’s been time to put this on the map. Otherwise the history is more profound, a source of water and therefore life for thousands of years.

Eat: need to replace the calories? Dates are the local food and they’re a good source of energy, packed with fructose. There’s a range of derivative products from syrup to cakes. Better still visit nearby Nizwa for the halwa, a confection made from syrup, saffron, cardamoms and rosewater made form roses that grow in the cooler mountain air. It’s boiled into a firm but rubbery sweet.

Part I – Alpe d’Huez
Part II – The Ghisallo
Part III – Mont Ventoux
Part IV – Col de la Madone
Part V – Col du Soulor
Part VI – Passo Dello Stelvio
Part VII – Mont Aigoual
Part VIII – Col de la République
Part IX – Croce d’Aune
Part X – Strade Bianche
Part XI – Col d’Eze
Part XII – The Poggio
Part XIII – Arenberg Cobbles
Part XIV – Col du Tourmalet
Part XV – Côte de La Redoute
Part XVI – Col du Pin Bouchain
Part XVII – Puy de Dôme
Part XVIII – La Planche des Belles Filles
Part XIX – Col du Lautaret
Part XX – Col du Palaquit
Part XXI – Champs Elysées
Part XXII: The Col du Galibier
Part XXIII: The Lacets de Montvernier
Part XXIV: Hautacam
Part XXV: The Schelde Bike Path
Part XXVI: Col de Marie-Blanque
Part XXVII: Jebel Al Akhdar
Part XXVIII: Genting Highlands

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{ 20 comments }

hoh February 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the fantastic post.

Wondering if the landscape would look similar to some Spanish climbs?

The Inner Ring February 23, 2014 at 10:08 am

Almost, there are some Spanish roads from its boom years that have been lavishly built and this has its streetlights and looks too big for a road that doesn’t lead anywhere although for many it’s great to get uphill for the cool air. But it’s just much more dry, the temperatures reach 50C in summer. If anything, think of Mars.

gabriele February 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

In Spain too! (more or less :-) )

Jace February 22, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Nice to see this climb included your series. Quite unexpected compared to the others!

The Inner Ring February 23, 2014 at 10:08 am

Thanks, Malaysia next week.

Bundle February 22, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Nice piece, and good effort. Now I see why you were asking yourself why Oman wasn’t on TV, if you’d been working on this article. :(

simon February 23, 2014 at 1:16 am

Nice one with the camels..I saw a highlights program a couple of years ago from the Tour of Oman. Muscat looks astoundingly beautiful, was i fooled?

The Inner Ring February 23, 2014 at 10:10 am

Muscat the city, and Mutrah which is next door, isn’t amazing but it has some points. For me the landscapes around are, especially the valleys or “wadis” with their size and the water. The people are also very friendly.

Chris February 23, 2014 at 3:00 am

Wonderful post. Good to see that you’re starting to expand this series beyond European borders. Perhaps a visit to Colombia or the US is in the cards?

The Inner Ring February 23, 2014 at 10:12 am

I’d need to visit before writing as I’ve never ridden up anything meaningful in the US nor set foot in Colombia, so that can’t be done for now. I’d love to try Colombia one day.

Kguld February 23, 2014 at 6:41 am

If you’re in the area there (Nizwa/Al Hamra) are more roads that should be ridden – a warmup could be the climb from Al Hambra to Misfat Al Abryien (4 km of well engineered serpentine twists rewarded by a beautifal village and a stroll around the Falaj) and then there’s another monster climb to Jabal Shams nearby with some steep sections (not sure that one is paved all the way though)

Cedrik February 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm

If you’re in the US, the California eastern sierra from Lake Tahoe to Death Valley has ~25 major climbs, many with over 5,000 feet of vertical gain and spectacular scenery. For example, google “onion valley bike climb.” The book “The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) covers the US.

othersteve February 23, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Anyone riding in the eastern sierra area of California needs to ride up and over Tioga pass into Yosemite.

To bad Amgen will never have real climbs, Sierra Nevada has a pelotons worth!

Trevor Mcdermott February 24, 2014 at 12:09 am

Mr ring

The road doesnt end on the plateau. Theres a steep ramp opposite the jabal al Akdhar hotel which takes you on for another 20km or so. After the initial ramp the road isnt so steep as the lower parts and the views are stunning. The road finishes in Al roos which has the most amazing views over a huge canyon. Worth the extra miles & this upper section can be ridden in the Summer. Worth knowing if 4am starts arent your thing!

Did you do the ride out to sifah beach?

Jabal Shams is paved about 2/3 of the way up but the traffic there is not regulated like on Akdhar and it does get busy.

The Inner Ring February 24, 2014 at 9:20 am

Hi, there seemed to be a few roads higher up but once you’re up there it seemed better on foot/by car, time to load the bike in a 4×4 and explore that way.

I didn’t ride too Al Sifah, just did the Al Hamriyah/Qantab loop with Al Bustan as well as Jebel Akhdar from Nizwa and around. I didn’t have much time, it was an extended stop in Doha but instead of staying in the skyscrapers this looked more interesting. And it was. Will be back with or without the bike.

Trevor Mcdermott February 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Worth mentioning that its worth getting permission to ride the road before travelling as it has been known for the police on the gate to deny entry.

It always made me smile that they only allow 4x4s on the road because its so steep but the steepest part is before you get to the gatehouse.

David Gardiner February 24, 2014 at 4:09 am

Another great article @inrng. Since other people are suggesting climbs I will do patriotic duty of mentioning Costa Rica as an option. The queen stages of the Vuelta a Costa Rica is up a climb called “El Cerro de la Muerte” (the peak of death) I say queen stages because the race always includes climbing it in both directions in back to back stages. Almost 65kms of climbing, not steep (3% average with parts at 11%) but eternal.

It is the most amazing ride I have ever done.

http://www.strava.com/activities/37488127/segments/605747151

Spatz March 1, 2014 at 4:23 am

Hey

Going to Oman next week on holiday with the Mrs, managed to blag both a day pass & a rental bike. Other than Jebel can you suggest any other rides near Muscat? Cheers Spatz

The Inner Ring March 1, 2014 at 9:23 am

Yes, go along the coast from the corniche in Mutrah and head past the Al Bustan Palance hotel and keep going past Qantab to Yiti. You can then ride back on another road towards Muscat, arriving at the Ruwi roundabout. This route takes in some of the Tour of Oman roads and has some very steep parts but it’s scenic and reasonably traffic free once away from the city.

Spatz March 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Perfect thanks will give it a go

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