Al Mouj Muscat > Al Bustan 173.5km
A brand-new race to get your teeth into, it makes sense to have a little warm up before the Tour of Oman kicks off on Saturday. This race has 2086m of climbing, which isn’t that much, but the placement of the climbs means we’re unlikely to get a big sprint. For those that know the Tour of Oman, it’s the same finale that features in the old Al Bustan stage, the one that’s been won by Nathan Haas, Alexey Lutsenko, Ben Hermans and Bob Jungels.
Sunny and temperatures will be around 25 degrees. The wind will be around 15-20km/h, and it’s going to be a headwind for the final climb and descent to the finish. There’s a lot of crosswinds throughout the day, but I don’t think we’ll see any major splits.
The finale begins with the first ascent of the Al Jissah climb, which is also the final climb of the day. It’s got two steep sections which are hard enough to split the bunch last time up.
Straight off the Al Jissah descent and the riders bounce into Wadi Al Kabir, at the top of this hill there’s 38km to go and enough flat road to deter any long-range attacks.
Hamriyah Hill comes next, another lump with a couple of steep sections. Once the riders eventually get over the crest (it drags on forever) there’s around 20km to go. A long descent follows into the foot of the final climb, it’s back to Al Jissah, the first climb featured above.
A fast descent down to the finishing line, and most of you will remember the rise to the line.
Who wants to control? Who thinks they can get a sprinter to the finish? What type of race do the big teams want? Three important questions to consider before I start thinking about tactics.
I don’t think anyone will ride for a sprint as the final climb should be too hard for the likes of Merlier, Cavendish and Ackermann.
I think all the big teams will be happy with a showdown on the final climb, which will allow the puncheurs to test each other out.
UAE, Bora, and QuickStep will be the most likely to take control of the race as they have strong options for the win.
If possible, teams would love to have a couple of riders in the front group after the final climb, we all know this gives a massive tactical advantage in the run for home. When this finish has been used in the past, the elastic snaps quite close to the crest of the hill. The climb is on a wide road, and as it’s going to be a strong headwind, there could be a surprisingly big group at the top. If that happens, we should see a reduced sprint.
If the group is small, things get very tactical. We’ve seen in the past a well-timed attack can see a rider take a solo win, it’s all to do with who’s left in the group to chase.
UAE – most teams arrive with 7 riders, UAE only have 6, but they’re still one of the strongest in the race. Ackermann would be very happy if he survives the final climb, I would normally think he doesn’t stand a chance, but the headwind could save him. Gibbons, Formolo and Ulissi would all hope to make the cut. Gibbons approached the Saudi Tour in good form, but he suffered a mechanical at a terrible point in stage 3, he’ll hope for better luck here as it’s a race that suits him well. Ulissi and Formolo provide two excellent attacking options, Ulissi has made a career of winning reduced sprints. Whatever happens, UAE should have numbers in the finale.
Cofidis – Zingle and Herrada will be their protected riders. Zingle has started the season well with three top 10 results in Mallorca. He normally goes well on short climbs; he’ll see this as a big opportunity to challenge for a win. Herrada is another good option for the team, this is the type of race he normally goes well in.
Alexey Lutsenko – he’ll start as one of the main favourites, as he climbs well and has a good sprint from a reduced group. As it’s his first race of the season, his form is unknown, but Lutsenko is normally a rider who starts hot. The headwind on the final climb isn’t great news for him, but we’ll have to wait and see how the race is ridden.
Ide Schelling – last year was a big disappointment for him, I think most expected better from him. Schelling is an excellent puncheur, he’ll be hoping to put 2022 behind him and return to old levels in 2023. Bora have a strong team; I would expect Schelling and Aleotti to have protected roles. Both have fast sprints but will be concerned about the wind making the group bigger than expected.
Matteo Jorgenson – first race of the year for the talented American, I’m expecting big things for him in 2023. He was brilliant in last year’s Tour; I don’t think it’s going to be long until we see him taking his first pro win. He’s got a decent sprint, but not as fast as some of the riders already mentioned. If he’s going to win, he needs to attack and force a smaller group off the front, which won’t be easy given the headwind.
Andrea Vendrame – the Italian is another who didn’t have the best of years in 2022. AG2R signed him to win hard races that end in a reduced sprint, he’ll be hoping to get back to winning ways in what is contract year. He climbs well, and the headwind on the final climb is excellent news for someone like him. He’s got a great chance if we get a sprint from a group of 20.
Mauri Vansevenant – another who’ll like the look of this race. He burst onto the scene in 2021, but like a few already mentioned, 2022 wasn’t quite what most were expecting. This is a great chance for him to take an early win, expect to see him attack on the final climb and see what happens.
I think we’ll see a reduced sprint and a win for Ryan Gibbons.
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