By Our Sports Reporter — MUSCAT — The stage is all set for the fourth edition of the Tour of Oman taking centrestage when the race kicks off from the Al Musannah Sports City today. ‘‘There are 18 teams participating in this tour,’’ said Thierry Gouvenou, the Amauray Sport Organisation (ASO) official during a press conference at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa yesterday. ‘‘It has become a major race in the cycling calendar and we expect more spectators as compared to the last three editions, to witness the six-day event. People all around the world will be able to see the beauty of Oman,’’ he added.
Saif al Rushaidy, the head of communications committee of Muscat Festival, said: ‘‘This is a race which everyone in Oman is eagerly looking forward to.'' Legendary cyclist Eddy Merckx, who arrived in Muscat on
‘‘The successful holding of this event for the last three years speaks volumes of the tou and Oman Air is very proud to be associated with it on this occasion.’’ Meanwhile, Muscat Municipality chief Sultan Hamdoon al Harthi hosted a reception yesterday evening to welcome the top riders to the Sultanate. Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador were three of the 14 riders in attendance
at the exclusive event hosted on Turtle Beach at the Shangri-La Baar Al Jissah Resport & Spa.
Former stage winners Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan enjoyed Omani hospitality on the eve of the race. Both riders hope to repeat their feats from last year. They will be challenged by the likes of Milan-Sanremo winners Matt Goss and Tom Boonen who were also in attendance at the reception yesterday.
“It’s been easy to be here so far,” said Goss. “We did a nice little training ride this morning, and we’ve been relaxing at the hotel ever since. The views here are incredible and the hotel is top-notch. Nice place to relax before the start of a race, that’s for sure.”
The riders includes world champion Philippe Gilbert, 2012 Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome, Tour of Oman defending champion Peter Velits, 2012 Tour of Oman runner-up Vincenzo Nibali and 2012 Giro d’Italia runner-up Joaquim Rodríguez.
Froome expressed his belief that an Arab rider would soon be represented in the professional peloton.
“It’s encouraging to see a rapid growth in the infrastructure of Oman,” Froome said, after his conversation with His Excellency. “I’ve learned today about the geology, the road system and the importance of the race for this country. I suspect it won’t be long before we see an Arabic rider amongst our ranks.”
Stage 1: February 11: Al Musannah-Sultan Qaboos University (162km).
Stage 2: February 12: Fanja in Bidbid-Al Bustan (146km).
Stage 3: February 13: Nakhal Fort-Wadi Dayqah Dam (190km).
Stage 4: February 14: Al Saltiyah in Samail-Jabal Al Akhdhar (152.5km).
Stage 5: February 15: Al Alam Palace-Ministry of Housing in Bausher(144km).
Stage 6: February 16: Hawit Nagam Park-Muttrah Corniche (144km).
Saturday evening from Doha, said: '‘The Tour of Oman is very interesting as the cyclists have to race on flat mountains which is unique in itself.'' Oman Air General Manager Mohammed al Shikely, who too was present on the occasion, praised the tour as one of the best in the cycling calendar.