Hands up who enjoys races in the middle of the desert? That’s just the three of you then – not counting the funky-haired man in the corner who looks suspiciously like Taylor Phinney.
It’s a shame that the early-season Tours of Dubai, Qatar and Oman tend to be lumped together as one. The first two are, admittedly, peas in an extremely wealthy pod – pan-flat, with little scenery to admire if overly tall buildings and endless dusty vistas leave you cold.
Oman, however, deserves a better reputation than it often receives. For a start, there are climbs – nothing to quicken the pulse of any aspiring Eagles of Toledo but sharp and plentiful enough to test riders with aspirations in the Ardennes and Grand Tours alike. Stage 5 this year will conclude as usual atop the Green Mountain. It was here last year that Chris Froome gave first notice of his all-conquering form, though Joaquim Rodriguez beat him to the stage win by four seconds. Puffing and panting further down the road was Alberto Contador.
It’s not all about the hills. The start list for this year’s race pays more than lip service to another great cliché: that variety is the spice of life. Tinkoff-Saxo have brought Daniele Bennati to be ritually humiliated in the sprints by Andre Greipel, whilst Stybar, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan are all present for some kind of cobbled Classics détente-off, sunny climes being a comforting memory when you’re sinking ever deeper into the Arenberg Trench. The hilly Classics contingent is well represented by Philippe Gilbert, Tony Gallopin and Greg Van Avermaet, who is definitely (or maybe not) committed to the Gilbert cause. Rounding them all off are the GC guys: the aforementioned Froome, Rodriguez and Contador, plus Tejay Van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali and Rigoberto Uran, swimming in Omega Pharma millions and out for some fiery, Sky-themed revenge. For the voyeurs, there’s even the chance of seeing the lesser-spotted Frandy Schleck in action before it breaks something.
We’d watch it, if only it were on the telly…
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH, WE LIKE IT
4 – Number of seconds separating 140 and Jean-Christophe Peraud, 1st and 2nd at the Tour of the Mediterranean.
5 – Number of seconds Peraud might have saved by not celebrating at the race-ending summit finish.
GB under-23 rider Jon Dibben wondered how three of his Strava segments had been beaten in one week. Wind doping, we suggested. “I fear it’s becoming a major issue. It’s been going on unspoken about since the storm hit. I felt I had to speak out,” Jon replied. A worrying development indeed.
Robert Gesink finishes alone atop the Green Mountain in the 2011 Tour of Oman. If Michael Bay or Ridley Scott ever directed a cycling film, it would look and sound like this, only with more explosions and fewer Dutch climbers.
Schleck and Contador, during happier, mistier times.
The closest road cycling gets to winter sports: Merckx and Gimondi fight through the snow to the Tre Cime de Lavaredo.
We have raided the storeroom at 1 Towers and given our new gloves, made in conjunction with the good people at Defeet, a good testing on the filthy lanes outside of the Capital and they have come up trumps. “Grippy” says Andy. “Compliant” says Guy. “Tough as old boots” says Mike the mile-muncher. “Roasty-toasty” says Ian, but we discounted him, as he’s a cyclo-crosser so has no feelings. Get yours here.