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Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria, other sprinters open season at Tour of Oman

Seven WorldTour teams, eight ProTeams, one Continental outfit, and one national team are scheduled to start the race that's been on hiatus since 2019.

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Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) are set to go head-to-head when the Tour of Oman returns from Thursday following a two-year hiatus.

Officials have worked hard and quickly to get the event up and running again, which has attracted more ProTeams than WorldTour outfits for 2022.

Also read: Caleb Ewan relishing sprint rematch with Mark Cavendish

The six-stage race didn’t go off in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2020 it was canceled after the nation went into mourning following the death of Sultan Qabood bin Said Al Said.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, race director Saif Subaa Alrushaidi said the 11th edition had been organized in just one month.

“After the difficulties we have all had these past two years … this is the first major event that Muscat has hosted since the start of COVID-19,” he told media in Arabic, and then in English.

“We are taking every possible measure to ensure the race is not only exciting and enjoyable but also safe for everyone involved,” he continued.

Gaviria is racing in Oman for the first time and enters on the back of a season debut at the Saudi Tour where his best result was a third-place finish to Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) on the opening stage.

Also read: Mark Cavendish leads Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl into Tour of Oman

The Colombian has had a lean couple of years after battles with COVID-19, but re-joined the winner’s circle last season with a stage win at the Tour of Poland. He’ll be able to count on the support of his trusted lead-out man Max Richeze in Oman.

Cavendish will make his season debut after a remarkable career comeback last year in which he equaled Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage-win record at the Tour de France.

Sprinters should have three opportunities to vie for victory in Oman, including the first, second, and final stages – the latter Cavendish won in 2011.

The 36-year-old has had an interrupted pre-season following a crash at Ghent Six track cycling event in November, where he suffered two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. He was assaulted during a violent home invasion in December, soon after his crash at Ghent.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl hasn’t sent a proven, or full-fledged lead-out to support Cavendish in the Middle East. Fausto Masnada is a favorite for the general classification, and the squad is also fielding neo-pro Stan Van Tricht as a stagiaire.

Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) was initially listed among the sprinters to compete in Oman but has withdrawn and is now reportedly to make his season debut at the UAE Tour.

The Frenchman is one of a number of late withdrawals including the B&B Hotels team, Casper Pedersen (Team DSM) and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rookie Ethan Vernon.

Seven WorldTour teams, eight ProTeams, one Continental outfit, and the Oman national team are scheduled to start the race, which commences with a 138km run from Al Rustaq Fort to the Oman Convention and Exhibition Center on Thursday.

The route this year is well-rounded and takes in most of Oman’s diverse landscape, from the coastline to rugged, sheer rock mountains.

The 167.5km second stage from Naseem Park to the Suhar Corniche, on paper, looks like another day for sprinters but running from point to point along the coast there is a chance that crosswinds could blow the race apart.

The race will almost certainly be decided on the penultimate day, in which riders face a summit finish at Green Mountain where Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) sealed his title in 2019.