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Who’s afraid of Christopher Froome?

After his overall win in the Tour of Oman, dancing away from his rivals on the slopes of Green Mountain, it’s clear that Chris Froome isn’t suffering any hangovers from his massive 2013 campaign.

Everyone should be afraid.

A burst of high-cadence acceleration was all it took to blow away Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and former Team Sky lieutenant Rigoberto Uran (OPQS).

As for Vincenzo Nibali, a man who many consider Froome’s most serious rival for the Tour de France, he was never truly in the hunt. With his wife at home about to give birth to their first child, it’s understandable if Nibali’s head wasn’t fully in the game in Oman.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Robert Gesink (Belkin), and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) were all thereabouts, but had no answer to Froome’s attack.

Winning the Tour of Oman is an early psychological blow

After stage five, Froome gave his perspective on his performance to Cycling Central:

“From a personal perspective I wanted to see where I was, where my condition was, and I think today I got the answer I wanted.

Winning here is always more psychological than anything else. At this point it’s still too early to say anything in terms of build-up to the Tour de France, but it’s definitely good to have it in there.”

As he says, it’s far too early to draw too many conclusions about the form of other riders, but what the Tour of Oman shows is that Froome definitely hasn’t spent his winter wining and dining at gala dinners.

It shows that Froome still has the hunger that seemed to desert Sir Bradley Wiggins after his own magical 2012 season (remember a clearly overweight Wiggins struggling to find form and condition leading into last year’s Giro).

Smashing his rivals so early in the season is such a psychological victory because everyone can see that, barring accident or injury, there will be no slackening off from the man who dominated every stage race he entered last year.

The effects of this can be seen already in the list of GC riders shifting their sights to the Giro d’Italia. It’s almost an admission that Froome can’t be beaten in the Tour this year, so let’s aim for the next biggest prize.

It’s a coup for the Italian race, which begins in Ireland on May 9th.You could even argue that the list of GC contenders for the Giro looks better than for the Tour.

In fact I will.

The best GC riders, Froome excepted, are not riding the Tour de France this year.

Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, and Froome’s teammate Richie Porte are all aiming squarely for the Giro. All except Uran targeted the Tour in 2013.

That’s some serious talent on display in May.

In July, Froome’s main rivals will be Nibali, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Tejay van Garderen, Robert Gesink, and Alejandro Valverde.

Nibali is one of my favourites, but he’ll have to overcome the disruption of new fatherhood, as well as Team Sky.

Contador has looked past his best for two years, but he took his first win in over a year in stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve this week. Hey, that’s better than nothing, but he didn’t beat anyone as good as the riders Froome just thrashed. I’ll need to see a lot more before I rate Contador as a serious GC threat again.

Valverde is a similar story: he defeated Richie Porte on home turf in the Ruta del Sol this week, cleaning up three stage wins in the process. But he’ll be 34 by the time the Tour begins, and he’s never made the podium there. Many astute observers don’t think he’s even the best GC rider in his team. Yes, he’s still deadly in stages that suit him, but can he go three weeks without a bad day in the high mountains?

Costa is all class, but his best results have come in single-day races and as a stage winner. His highest grand tour GC finish to date is 18th, at the Tour in 2012. He’s unproven as a grand tour GC contender, despite very strong performances in shorter stage races like the Tour de Suisse.

Gesink and van Garderen are well known for their buckets of potential without ever really looking like winning a grand tour.

As the season progresses we’ll have a better idea of who is really in form and who’s playing catch-up.

But for my money, there are more genuine GC riders aiming for the Giro than I can remember.

Why would the Giro, a great race but undeniably less prestigious than its French cousin, attract a more competitive field than the Tour?

I reckon they think Froome can’t be beaten.

This article was first published on The Roar.

Tour of Oman preview

The Tour of Oman is no longer a joke

Only a few years after it was considered something of a weird novelty, the Tour of Oman 2014 boasts a start list that any race promoter would be proud of.

Let me reel off some names.

Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rigoberto Uran, Tejay Van Garderen, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Robert Gesink, Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche and Thibaut Pinot.

That’s just the GC guys.

If you’re keeping a closer eye on the classics, how about Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen, Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Moreno Moser, Michael Albasini, Heinrich Haussler, Daniel Moreno and Zdenek Stybar?

Sprinters? Andre Greipel, Nacer Bouhanni, Leigh Howard and Daryl Impey.


That is some serious firepower for a six-stage race in the Middle East in February. How does this race attract such a premium field?

With money, obviously. Oil money.

But it’s also relatively close to Europe, and only a couple of weeks before the prestigious Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico stage races. A bit of warm-weather racing to tune up is just what the doctor ordered for riders coming out of winter.

Of course, unlike the Tours of Qatar and Dubai, Oman boasts a race route with more variety than just “sandy, windy, flat”. To win the GC here will require more than splitting the field in the crosswinds.

Hey, there’s a lot to be said for a perfectly-executed echelon, just ask Tour of Qatar winner Niki Terpstra, but for lightweight climbers they’re about as attractive as a chamois full of sand.

Short stages means full gas racing

The Tour of Oman has relatively short stages to encourage aggressive racing. There are several teams stacked with classics riders and rouleurs ready to rip the legs off anyone who isn’t quite up for it.

Most riders have at least some racing in their legs by now, having raced in Australia, Argentina, Dubai or Qatar. Winter’s heavy legs should be thawing out, and riders will be feeling good form approaching.

Flat stages, with two chances for the climbers

Stages 1 and 2 are pretty flat, and should suit the sprinters unless the likes of OPQS, Lotto-Belisol or Orica-GreenEdge decide to split things in the wind.

Stage 3 has a couple of short, sharp little pinches in the last 25km, with the final one (Al Jissah) with 6.5km remaining. This may be a launching pad for an opportunist, but it’ll be a long drag to the finish.

Stage 4 finishes with a circuit that climbs its way up Bousher Alamrat four times. It’s not a long climb, or a steep one, but it’s definitely enough to hurt some legs if the pace is aggressive.

Chris Froome won here in 2013, defeating Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez, if you needed convincing that this stage could be decisive.

Stage 5 is the race’s queen stage, culminating in the summit finish of Green Mountain. Rodriguez was victorious over Froome last year, beating him by four seconds, with Cadel Evans third.

Stage 6 is another one for the sprinters.

Who will win?

The reigning champ is Froome, but previous winners include Peter Velits, Robert Gesink and Fabian Cancellara.

With so many GC riders having shown so little this season, it’s nearly impossible to predict a winner, but the winner will need to be a strong climber.

For the climbers, in the grand scheme of the season, the winner here matters little. It’s a nice little payday and a chance to size up the opposition, but nobody with Grand Tour ambitions is aiming for the Tour of Oman.

Nevertheless, the renewal of psychological battles between the leaders; the chance to evaluate their teams; and anyone who is obviously underperforming will be fertile fields to scratch in.

Perhaps more important is the tussle between the classics men for stage victories.

As we all know, March and April are thick with minor classics, major classics and monuments.

The season’s first monument, Milan-Sanremo is still a month away, but the minor classics begin at the start of March. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche and Roma Maxima are looming near.

The attention of European fans will build for the more fancied races towards the end of March, but the form lines undoubtedly begin to show themselves by the end of February.

Already, Tom Boonen looks in great form. In past seasons (think back to 2012) when he has raced well in Qatar he has been near unstoppable a month later on the cobbles. Two stage wins already this season show he has put a disastrous 2013 behind him.

Peter Sagan is yet to take a win in 2014, but was on the podium twice in Dubai.

Cancellara, who prefers to start his season more gradually, has been content to roll around mid-pack in Qatar and Dubai. I would be surprised if he showed much more in Oman.

It’s a similar story for Philippe Gilbert, who looks likely to focus on the Ardennes classics in April.

All in, the Tour of Oman is a cut above the other Middle Eastern petro-races. The depth of the field all but guarantees plenty worth watching.