MUSCAT — In a country located on the old maritime silk route and steeped in history, there is most definitely a feeling of anticipation in the air. The elite international pack has been quick to grasp that the landscapes of the Sultanate of Oman lend themselves to glorious feats.
Like the first two editions, a battle of twists and turns is in preparation for those seeking to conquer the Tour of Oman cycling title, won by Fabian Cancellara in 2010 and then Robert Gesink in 2011. The variety of the terrains has allowed the organisers to alternate between stages along the windy but flat coast and over more rugged routes on which fortune will no doubt favour the brave.
Indeed, it is at the finish of the fifth stage in particular, with the climb of Al Jabal Al Akhdhar, that the most explosive climbers will be expected. Andy Schleck, second on the Tour de France 2011, will be a rider to watch all the way up the ascent, as will the winner of the Vuelta 2010, Vincenzo Nibali. However, rivals such as Joaquim Rodriguez, Christian Vandevelde or even Arnold Jeannesson are unlikely to show themselves to be timid in attack.
The demanding but relatively short slope (5.7 km at a gradient of 10.5 per cent) could encourage other types of attackers to try their luck: David Millar, Sylvain Chavanel and Alessandro Ballan could succeed in carrying out a hold-up.
Another confrontation of several episodes will take place over the flat stages, with several group sprints likely, pitting Mark Cavendish against André Greipel, not forgetting other riders with legitimate ambitions on this type of stage: Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar, Marcel Kittel, Denis Galymzianov or Peter Sagan are sure to have their word to say in the outcome.
Australia: GreenEdge Cycling Team (GEC): Cooke, Goss (Aus).
Belgium: Lotto-Belisol Team (LTB): Greipel (Ger), Henderson (NZ); Omega Pharma-Quick Step: Boonen (Bel), Chavanel (Fra).
China: Champion System (CSS): Clarke (Aus).
Italy: Farnese Vini-Selle Italia (FAR): Hulsmans (Bel); Liquigas-Cannondale (LIQ): Nibali (Ita), Sagan (Svq).
USA: BMC Racing Team (BMC): Ballan (Ita), Phinney (Usa); Garmin-Barracuda (GRM): Farrar, Vandevelde (USA), Millar (GB); Radioshack-Nissan (RNT): Cancellara (Swi), A.Schleck (Lux).
France: FDJ-BigMat (FDJ): Casar, Jeannesson (Fra). Great Britain: Sky Procycling (SKY): Cavendish (GB), Eisel (Aut).
Japan: Bridgestone Anchor (BGT): Shimizu (Jap).
Netherlands: Project 1t4i (PRO): Kittel (Ger); Rabobank Cycling Team (RAB): Tjallingii (Hol).
Russia: Katusha Team (KAT): Rodriguez (Spa), Galimzyanov (Rus).
Thailand: RTS Racing Team (RTS): McCann (Irl).
Stage 1: February 14: Al Alam Palace-Wadi Al Huwqayn (159 km). Stage 2: February 15: Sur-Wadi Dayqah Dam (140,5 km).
Stage 3: February 16: Al Awabi (Al Alya)-Bank Muscat HQ (144,5 km).
Stage 4: February 17: Bidbid (Nafa’a)-Al Wadi al Kabir (142,5 km).
Stage 5: February 18: Royal Opera House-Jabal Al Akhdhar/Green Mountain (158 km).
Stage 6: February 19: Al Khawd-Matrah Corniche (130,5 km).