AL BUSTAN, Oman (AFP) — Swiss veteran Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) won the second stage of the Tour of Oman and took the overall lead following a 195.5-kilometer ride from Al Hazm Castle to Al Bustan on Wednesday.
The former Olympic and world champion, nicknamed “Spartacus,” managed to keep with the leading group until the final two minor climbs before launching a sprint that left Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in second and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) of Belgium settling for the third spot.
“It was a long, difficult sprint, because it was all uphill, but I’m really satisfied,” said Cancellara, who won the first edition of the Tour of Oman in 2010. “I told myself it wasn’t going to be a great day because I was so hot, but we took a different direction near the sea and the temperature came down a few degrees.
“I just tried to follow the best climbers with the strength I had left. I know in a few years, it’s going to be finished for me so I’m just trying to benefit now.”
Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Preben Van Hecke, Jef Van Meirhaeghe (both Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), and Enrico Barbin (Bardiani CSF) made the early breakaway move. After 11.5 kilometers, their gap had reached 5:15. The first intermediate sprint (35.5km) was claimed by Van Meirhaeghe ahead of Smukulis and Van Hecke while the pack remained five minutes adrift. Team Astana took up the chase, and the gap started dropping. Barbin was dropped after a flat tire and caught by the field, 50 kilometers in.
The front three riders kept pushing and reached a maximum advantage of 8:10 with 109.5km left. At the second bonus sprint (143km), Van Meirhaeghe won again. Van Hecke was second and Smukulis, third.
With 25km to go, the front three had a two-minute lead. Going up Al Hamriyah, the day’s first climb, Smukulis powered away. The Latvian reached the top with a 30-second advantage over Van Meirhaeghe and Van Hecke, and 1:10 over a pack that had dropped the red jersey, Andrea Guardini (Astana). Smukulis was then caught with 16.5km left.
On the second climb of the day, Al Jissah, four men attacked: Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), Julien Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing), and Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka). Arredondo led them over the top with a slim 20-second lead, but they were caught just a few moments later by a group of 14. Among the leading bunch, with just five kilometers to go, were the likes of Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Cancellara, and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida). Race favorites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) had been dropped on the previous climb.
On the final, slightly uphill straight, Cancellara perfectly measured his effort to capture the stage win. The Swiss rider, who won the very first edition of the Tour of Oman, claimed his first-ever stage in the Sultanate, beating Valverde and Van Avermaet to the line.
Cancellara, 33, who has won eight stages at the Tour de France between 2004 and 2012 and was a regular wearer of the yellow jersey, takes the leader’s red tunic after a scorching hot day. He holds a four-second lead over Valverde entering Thursday’s third stage. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18) is five seconds adrift in third. Cancellara also takes command of the points classification (green jersey), while Konrad remains the best young rider. Van Meirhaeghe claims the polka-dot combativity jersey after riding in the break for the second day in a row.
Thursday’s stage 3 is a 158km route that begins and finishes at the Al Mussanah Sports City, bordering the Sea of Oman.