JABAL AL AKHDHAR, Oman (AFP) — Spain’s Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) won the tough fourth stage of the Tour of Oman at a summit finish on Green Mountain. In doing so, he took the overall lead ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
The day’s action started right away as a four-man breakaway consisting of Andrea Guardini (Astana), Jef Van Meirhaeghe and Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), and Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-Quick-Step) jumped clear in the first kilometer. Points classification leader Guardini claimed the first intermediate sprint ahead of Van Merheaghe, and then both riders drifted back to the pack, leaving only two up the road. The gap went out to as much as 14:45 at one point before the peloton picked up the pace and slowly started to reel in the move. The pack finally made the catch with less than ten kilometers to go.
As the peloton began to scale the steep climb up to the finish on Green Mountain, riders began dropping off the back, including Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who started the day in the race lead. A group of just over twenty riders pulled clear with under five kilometers to go. After attacking twice, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) begin to struggle with 3km to go. By the final kilometer, a three-rider group consisting of only Valls, van Garderen, and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) remained in the lead. Valls put in an attack 500 meters from the finish to get free and crossed the line 5 seconds ahead of van Garderen. Alejandro Valverde caught back up with Majka and passed him near the line for third, 19 seconds back on Valls, with Majka taking fourth, 22 seconds behind the winner.
With the stage victory, Valls seized the race leader’s red jersey from Fabian Cancellara. Van Garderen is second overall at 9 seconds back with two stages remaining. Valverde sits in third at 19 seconds.
“I am the first one to be surprised,” said Valls after the stage. “I didn’t expect to win at all, especially with the riders left in the final group, and I thought it was practically impossible for me to win.
“Van Garderen is one of the riders who can finish in the top five in the Tour de France and to beat him is incredible,” added Valls, who picked up only his second career stage win and first since the Tour of San Luis five years ago.
“I had four difficult years, with a lot of accidents but I never lost hope. I worked hard during the winter and arrived in better condition than ever,” Valls said.
Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nibali had a difficult day and lost 2:27, while Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) lost 5:25 on the stage.
“There were some riders who were better prepared for today’s stage,” said Nibali. “I am not yet in top condition and Oman is not a priority race for me.”
Saturday’s stage features a 151.5km ride between Al Sawadi Beach and the Ministry of Housing over a rolling route that could once again shake up the overall rankings. The race finishes on Sunday with a 133.5km run from Oman Air to Muttrah Promenade.