The world’s leading stage-race riders go head-to-head for the first time in 2013 as the peloton makes the short trip from Qatar for the Tour of Oman.
Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez are all expected on the start line for six days of racing that should give an accurate barometer of the early-season form of riders who will challenge at Grand Tours later in the year.
This year marks the fourth edition of the race and the stature of the event has risen yet again. All eyes will be on the stage four and the ascent of the now famous ‘Green Mountain’.
Like Qatar, there are bonus seconds up for grabs throughout the race, with intermediate sprints offering three, two and one seconds to the first three riders over the line and ten, six and four seconds available for the first three finishers.
Team Sky arrive in Oman with a completely different squad to Qatar for the first time - Dario Cataldo, Joe Dombrowski, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees and Richie Porte all starting their seasons alongside Froome and Wiggins.
Monday 11 February: Stage 1 – Al Musannah to Sultan Qaboos University, 162km
The opening day of the race is tailor-made for a bunch sprint, but the route is far from pan flat. A stage of two halves, the riders will start on the coast and climb gently inland to an altitude of more than 450 metres at Al Awabi, with King of the Mountains points up for grabs on the way. After a 90-degree left turn, the road heads back downhill and the sprinters will need to be on their game straight away for an intermediate sprint. They will then head all the way back down into central Muscat, where a couple of tight turns could prove tricky for lead-out trains.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 on Feb 12 between 0900-0930, 1630-1700 (BE1), 1845-1915, 2200-2230 and 2345-0015 (BE1).
Tuesday 12 February: Stage 2 – Fanja in Bidbid to Al Bustan, 146km
Although another sprint stage on paper, the second day is likely to prove far more testing courtesy of a couple of short, sharp climbs inside the last 25 kilometres. Both come with King of the Mountains points on offer, and there are also two intermediate sprints – at 32km and 135km – to keep the sprinters on their guard. The route starts inland, heads up a valley for 30km before doubling back towards the finish line in east Muscat.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 on Feb 13 between 0900-0930, 1830-1900, 2200-2230 and 2330-0000 (BE1).
Wednesday 13 February: Stage 3 – Nakhal Fort to Wadi Dayqah Dam, 190km
The longest stage of the race by some 28km, day three starts at a hill fort south-west of Muscat, before rolling down towards the outskirts of the city and then over an undulating route that runs parallel to the coastline. The only serious climb of note is the short and sharp Bousher Alamrat, where King of the Mountains points are on offer, meaning this is another day for the sprinters. There are two intermediate sprints, after 37km and 143km.
Highlights on Eurosport 2 on Feb 14 between 0900-0930, 1830-1900, 2200-2230.
Thursday 14 February: Stage 4 – Al Saltiyah in Samail to Jabal Al Akhdhar, 152.5km
After three days in the shadows, it’s time for the climbers to come to the fore for the only true mountainous stage of the race. The day starts inland of Muscat and heads deep into the Hajar Mountains to a steep summit finish on Jabal Al Akhdhar, or “Green Mountain”, which tops out at 1,235m. There are three gentler ascents earlier in the day, as well as intermediate sprints after 55km and 141km, but it is the final climb that should have a big impact on the general classification.
Highlights on Eurosport on Feb 15 between 0000-0030, 0755-0830, 0900-0930 (BE2), 1830-1900 (BE2) and 2200-2230 (BE2).
Friday 15 February: Stage 5 – Al Alam Palace to Ministry of Housing in Boshar, 144km
The race returns to Muscat for a rolling stage that revisits Bousher Alamrat for another three ascents, all coming in the final 50km. Two of them will offer King of the Mountains points, with the third climb counting as an intermediate sprint. From there, it’s a lightning-fast 13km descent to the finish line, which won’t come quick enough for breakaway riders looking to hold on for victory.
Highlights on Eurosport on Feb 16 between 0800-0830, 0900-0930 (BE2), 1830-1900 (BE2), 2200-2230 (BE2) and 2330-0000.
Saturday 16 February: Stage 6 – Hawit Nagam Park to Matrah Corniche, 144km
The race reaches its finale with another bunch sprint on the seafront in Muscat. The modest climb of Qurayyat will offer a last chance to pick up King of the Mountains points, but otherwise it is all about collecting vital bonus seconds on the flat. There are intermediate sprints after 32km and 129km, the latter coming in the first of three crossings of the finish line as the peloton is taken on a three-lap circular circuit culminating in a final sprint.
Highlights on Eurosport on Feb 17 between 0800-0830, 0900-0930 (BE2), 1115-1145 (BE2), 1700-1730 (BE2), 2200-2230 (BE2) and 2300-2330.
Team Sky history
Edvald Boasson Hagen is the proud owner of Team Sky’s best performances in the race with second place overall in 2010 and 2011. The Norwegian claimed two stage victories at the first time of asking in the race’s inaugural edition.