Chris Froome led Team Sky home in sixth position on day two of the Tour of Oman after Peter Sagan had claimed a fine solo victory in Al Bustan.
Froome was marshalled brilliantly by his team-mates throughout the 146km trek from Bidbid, and after Team Sky had helped haul back an early two-man break, Peter Kennaugh and Sir Bradley Wiggins were right towards the front as they crested the first of two late climbs.
Richie Porte then came to the fore alongside Kennaugh as they approached the intervening intermediate sprint, and the duo claimed two and one-second bonuses respectively before they hit the final climb of the day.
That was when Froome stepped up his pace, and the Tour de France runner up was one of only 46 riders still in the front group as they swooped back down towards the finish line.
Sagan was also there, and when he attacked in the final five kilometres, no-one could muster a reply, ensuring the Cannondale rider romped to his first victory of the season with a five-second advantage over RadioShack’s Tony Gallopin. Froome meanwhile, crossed the line a further two seconds behind.
Sagan’s performance saw him move top of the general classification with a nine-second cushion over Gallopin, with Froome well positioned in sixth position, just 17 seconds off the pace.
The action had been brisk from the off with Bobbie Traksel (CSS) and Tomohiro Kinoshita (JPN) edging clear almost as soon as the start flag had been lowered.
The duo’s lead had grown to almost six minutes as they approached the first intermediate sprint at 32km, but it wasn’t allowed to grow much further as Argos-Shimano and Cannondale eventually joined forces back in the bunch.
Indeed, only 50 seconds stood between the peloton and their prey as they approached the opening climb of the day, and the leaders were swept up before they even made it to the summit. By that point Team Sky were firmly in control with Kennaugh, Wiggins and Porte all prominent before Froome was thrust into contention.
The pace he and his GC rivals set on the second climb blew the race apart, and overnight leader Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) was one of several big names to lose touch before they commenced the fast descent to the finish.
Various attacks would come out of that lead group in the final five kilometres, but it was Sagan that made his stick, and after battling on he even had time for one of his trademark celebrations before crossing the line triumphant.
After the stage, Sports Director Nicolas Portal was happy with the team’s performance, and pleased to see Froome move into contention at the top of the standings. He told us: “It was a good day for us and I’m happy with how we performed.
“It was very hard in those last 25km, especially with those two categorised climbs. The first one was very steep with a constantly changing gradient, but we had the numbers at the front and Pete, Vasil, Richie and Bradley were able to control things right up until the second climb for Froomey.
“When we hit that, the road was so wide that other riders began attacking left, right and centre, but we set a solid pace for Froomey and he proved he’s in great condition. He put four seconds into Alberto Contador today and is now very well positioned on the GC.”
Portal also took time to praise the performance of Sagan, and predicted the 23 year old would go all-out in the days to come to retain his leader’s jersey.
He added: “Sagan’s an amazing rider and did brilliantly to stay in contact on such a tricky final climb. His attack at the end there was equally impressive and he’s shown once again just how strong a rider he is.
“Cannondale will definitely ride to protect his lead tomorrow but there’s another hard finish with three short, sharp climbs followed by a 500m ascent in the last kilometre which averages 10%. We’re expecting attacks to come thick and fast again and we’ll be focusing all our attention to ensure Froomey comes through it in the best possible position.”