Sultan Qaboos University > Qurayyat 1801.1km
This stage marks the start of the GC battle. A finish that has been used three times in the past, the climb always seems to be harder than the numbers suggest.
Hot, not much wind, sunny. Last time we were here the race split before the climb, not this year.
It doesn’t look much, but this finish always causes surprising gaps. Puncheurs can hang on and take the win, Kragh Andersen and Boasson Hagen have won here in the past. Saying that, Lutsenko won the last time we visited, so it can also be won by a rider who is more of a climber. It all depends on how hard the pace is going up the climb.
QuickStep and UAE have the two main favourites for the race, they’ll control the stage and ensure we get a big finish. Once on the climb both teams will only really have one domestique left, Schmid and Gibbons. Strangely, that should be enough as the start list really is lacking the normal quality we would expect in a race like this.
DSM are the other squad with climbing talent, but they only have five riders. As they won’t be expected to contribute to the chase, they should be able to save men for the climb, but all their domestiques are young so it’s hard to rely on them. Rui Costa and Masnada would prefer a hard pace on the climb, Kragh Andersen would prefer it a little easier, we’ll have to see who controls the climb and how hard they make it.
Rui Costa – the presence of Ryan Gibbons is key; he was 10th here in 2019. Costa has a long history with this finish, he was 4th in 2019, 2nd in 2017 and 9th in 2016, is this the year when he finally takes home the win? I think he’d be confident of beating most of his rivals in a sprint, but the problem is Kragh Andersen, this is why Gibbons is so important. The South African needs to set a hard pace, they need to take some of the kick out of the Andersen’s sprint.
Fausto Masnada – lost 10 seconds today, not sure how that happened, but he won’t be pleased. He has the climbing ability to win a stage like this, but he doesn’t have much of a sprint. Winning a short climb like this solo is going to be very difficult.
Søren Kragh Andersen – won here back in 2017, that seems like a very long time ago. The Dane has the climbing ability to get up a hill like this, it’s short enough for riders like him to hang with the climbers. 2021 was a bit of a disaster for him, he didn’t get anywhere near the levels expected of him, a good start to this year would give him a confidence boost.
Élie Gesbert – this is a good finish for the Frenchman, he has the kick required to take the win. Last year he won the hilltop finish in Malhão, this is much easier than that climb. He started this season in okay form over in Mallorca, I expect him to be one of the men in the mix for this stage.
Racing in the legs can be key at this time of the year, I’ll take a win for Rui Costa.