Tour of Oman 2016 preview
Having originally been a race for time trialists, the Tour of Oman is now one for the climbers. The time trial has been removed from the route that now consists of a mixture of flat stages for the sprinters, tricky stages for puncheurs, and real mountain stages. As the race usually has very good weather, this makes it the perfect preparation race for almost any kind of rider.
The race has traditionally kicked off with a stage for the sprinters but for 2016, the organizers have changed the script. The stage is very similar to the one that opened last year’s race and has an almost identical profile. Instead, the puncheurs and classics riders will get a chance to go for the leader’s jersey on the opening day as the riders will face the well-known finale in Al Bustan that has produced some exciting racing in the three most recent editions of the race.
In the past, the first half of the race has always been a bit of a waiting game for the GC riders who have been trying to save energy for the big battle on the Green Mountain. This time they have to be on their toes right from the start as the tricky first stage is followed by a first big climbing battle in a new summit finish on the second day.
The final climb is not very steep and as there are no previous difficulties, the time gaps will be small. Furthermore, it’s a relatively short climb that is better suited to puncheurs than to real climbers. Hence, the riders that battled for victory on the opening stage may fancy their chances for another stage win and a longer stint in the leader’s jersey. However, the GC riders will have to be on their toes as this stage will produce the first time gaps and give an indication of who’ll be able to win the 2016 Tour of Oman.
The sprinters have usually had their say on three stages of the Omani race but this year their number of opportunities has been reduced to two. Furthermore, they will have no chance to get the leader’s jersey as they will have to wait until the third day before they get their chance. However, they will lick their lips in anticipation of stage 3 which is the easiest of the race.
Since the second edition in 2011, the Green Mountain, or Jabal al Akhdar, has played host to the finish of the queen stage of the race and been the scene of the season’s first big mountain battle between some of the best grand tour riders in the world. With the stage having been a huge success in the past editions, the organizers have found little reason to remove the race’s landmark climb and it will again be the scene of the queen stage. Like last year, the key stage comes on stage 4 after it has previously been held on the penultimate day but this year the organizers have made the stage even tougher as they will now go further up the mountain, making the brutally steep climb even longer.
In 2013, the organizers introduced another crucial stage that finished with several passages of the tough Bousher al Amerat climb before it descended back to a finish in front of the Ministry of Housing. The stage produced some very exciting racing and in 2014 a slightly changed version of the stage was back on the course. As it again delivered a fantastic race, the exact same finale was set to feature on the penultimate day of the race but wind and heat forced the organizers to cancel it due to a rider protest. That hasn’t prevented them from including it in the 2016 edition too, offering the climbers a final chance to change the GC on the eve of the final sprint stage.
Like most other national tours, the Tour of Oman has usually ended with a flat stage for the sprinters in the country’s capital and the 2016 edition won’t change this tradition. However, the circuit on the Matrah Corniche in the centre of Muscat is not as easy as it is in other stage races and as the stage includes some climbing earlier in the stage, the sprinters will have to dig deep a bit deeper to make sure that they are still in contention in the end.
Richie Porte, Vincenzo Nibali
Romain Bardet, Tom Dumoulin
Rui Costa, Daniel Martin, Domenico Pozzovivo, Eduardo Sepulveda, Davide Rebellin