Chris Froome safely negotiated the final day of the Tour of Oman to wrap up a maiden stage-race victory.
"The good thing about this race was that we achieved exactly what we wanted to do, which was to return to the Sky style of racing."
The 27-year-old Briton crossed the line at the Matrah Corniche in Muscat as part of the peloton to consolidate a 27-second triumph over Spain’s Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), with Australia’s Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) 12 seconds further back in third.
The win was a landmark one for Froome but also a special one for Team Sky, who helped guide the Brit to the finish after working hard throughout the race to capture and then defend the red jersey. A victory on stage five and a consistent run of finishes also laid the foundations for Froome to take the points jersey.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) took top honours on the final stage, sprinting to victory ahead of Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) at the end of a 144-kilometre final day that had started in Hawit Nagam Park, south-east of the Omani capital.
But the biggest celebrations were saved for Froome, who once again confirmed his status as a contender for the Tour de France yellow jersey in July by going toe-to-toe and besting his rivals over six days in the Gulf.
After the race Froome was unsurprisingly pleased with the victory and the way the team helped him seal the red jersey.
He said: “It’s been an incredibly successful week for us this week. The team has rallied around me all the way and having guys of the calibre of Bradley Wiggins helping you to win a race makes it a hell of a lot easier to be up there when the going gets tough.
“The guys have done a sterling job this week and been around me when it’s counted. Luckily I’ve been able to come up with the goods and finish it off at the end of the stages.
“This is still very early days at the moment and early on in the season. This was a preparation event and a good test to see how the winter training has gone so far. I’m quite confident that I’m on track at the moment and right where I need to be with my preparations in view of being ready at 100 per cent for the Tour de France.”
After the podium celebrations we also caught up with Team Principal Dave Brailsford who was understandably pleased with how the race panned out.
“It's good to get the win, especially when you look at the quality of the field here," he explained. "We're happy that the team's been able to get off to a strong start again this year and this result allows us to build momentum.
“It's an important result too for Chris as he's been able to get his first major stage race victory - that will boost his confidence. He didn't put a foot wrong all week so it's been a good start to the year from him.
“The team rode well to support him and it's great to be able to integrate the new riders, which is something that developed throughout the week.
“It was good for Joe [Dombrowski] to get his professional career under way and to come through six days of racing having contributed to the team.
“It's February and now is the time to build. It's nice to have that platform but we need to consolidate that and build on it.”
Sports Director Nicolas Portal was also on hand to talk us through how the team approached the final day and spoke about what this early-season success means for all involved.
"It’s great to finish this way in the first race of the year for this group," he said. "To take the jersey and bring it home is always a good feeling. The team this morning were confident and ready to do whatever was required to keep the jersey for Chris.
"Some of the sprinters’ teams came through to help on the front and we controlled things with [Vasil] Kiryienka and Joe. When we entered the circuit the whole team came to the front to pull. It was a short climb so we made sure that Chris was in a good position. There was no stress, it was just important to keep control of things and the team did that perfectly.
"The good thing about this race was that we achieved exactly what we wanted to do, which was to return to the Sky style of racing. To control from the front and, when we commit to something, to really commit to it and carry it out together as a team. All the things we were doing last year.
"Without the radios it is not easy sometimes so the guys did really well. We have taken a stage win and the GC so that bodes well for the future. We did lots of great work in Mallorca and now we can see how well that has translated into the races."
The general classification leaders kept a low profile on the final day in Oman as the sprinters returned to the fore on a rolling stage ending with a flat dash to the finish line.
A group of three riders – Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Wesley Kreder (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Andrea di Corrado (Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox – made an early breakaway and opened up a gap that peaked at more than six minutes.
But they were reeled in as the route entered Muscat and took the riders on a two-and-a-half laps of a circuit around Matrah Corniche, including three ascents of a short, sharp climb.
Froome had begun the day with a lead of 27 seconds, a margin which ensured he was safe of the threat of time bonuses. Despite that nobody in Team Sky was about to overlook the final test with a finish which proved to be tougher than advertised.
After controlling things for the first hour the team were helped in the chase efforts by riders from Argos-Shimano and NetApp-Endura – both teams having a vested interest in a bunch sprint.
All Froome had to do was finish safely to take the win and, shepherded home by his team-mates he delivered an emphatic victory.