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Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) won the opening stage of the Tour of Oman Saturday in a flat, fast sprint ahead of French duo Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept-B&B Hotels) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis Solutions Credits).
The victory marks Kristoff’s ninth career stage win at Oman, which celebrates its 10th running this year. Kristoff has started every edition of the race, and is still the winningest rider in the race’s history. German sprinter Andre Greipel is second with five career stage victories.
The victory bodes well for Kristoff’s 2019 campaign, which will see him split UAE’s sprint duties with Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria. Kristoff famously won the final stage of the 2018 Tour de France after a season of close calls. In the off-season his sprint leadership role at UAE was placed in jeopardy when the team signed Gaviria.
During Friday’s pre-race press conference Kristoff told reporters that he expected to take a backseat to Gaviria in 2019 due to the Colombian’s superior sprint. He said he is ready to work as a lead-out man throughout the season for the Colombian ace.
“Normally, on the easier days, Gaviria is the faster rider,” Kristoff said. “If you have a normal flat stage, he will be the guy we ride for because his leg speed is faster than mine. Even though I won on the Champs Elysées last year, if he was there maybe he’d have won. But on the harder days – also in Belgium – I think it’s going to be slightly different. He still hasn’t beaten me in Milan-San Remo yet, where everyone is very tired.”
Kristoff took the victory after the riders tackled a predominantly flat stage from Al Sawadi Beach to Sohar Cornice. The day’s major hurdle was the head- and cross-winds that battered the peloton. Pre-race favorite Greipel saw his chances at the sprint torpedoed by a puncture inside 10km to go.
The group hit a number of roundabouts as they sped toward the finish, and the road features seemed to create confusion in the bunch, said Coquard.
“We had to stay patient and give everything in the last meters, ” Coquard said. “Kristoff was very strong, we limited the damage.”
The Tour of Oman continues Sunday with a hilly 161km stage from Royal Cavalry Oman to Al Bustan.