February 23, 2015 (Oman) – While many were expecting former winners like Vincenzo Nibali or Joaquim Rodriguez to shine on the hardest stage of the Tour of Oman, Spaniard Rafael Valls triumphantly tamed the Green Mountain. In the last kilometre of the climb, the Lampre-Merida rider powered away, eventually crossing the line ahead of Tejay van Garderen and Alejandro Valverde. Valls captures the overall leader’s Red Jersey with two stages to go.
For the first time in the history of the Tour of Oman, the riders had the privilege and honour to take from the splendid Sultan Qaboos Grande Mosque for stage 4 of the event. On the day, the pack would have to take on the most demanding stage of the Tour with the brutal climb up Jabal Al Akhdhar at the end of a 189-km race. The 139 remaining riders (one non starter: Declercq, TSV) took off at 10:44 with one extra major issue to deal with: the wind. The pack would indeed struggle against a strong face wind.
As soon as the first kilometre, four riders broke away: the Green jersey, Andrea Guardini (AST), the combativity jersey Jef Van Meirhaeghe (TSV) as well as Vandenbergh (EQS) and Van Hoecke (TSV). At km 9, their advantage had reached 2’40 and kept on growing. The first intermediate sprint (km 18.5) was claimed by Guardini ahead of Van Meirhaeghe and Van Hoecke while the pack remained 4’50 adrift. Happy with the points and bonus seconds they had collected, Guardini and Van Meirhaeghe then stopped their efforts and were caught by the peloton at km 23.
Meanwhile Vandenbergh and Van Hoecke continued pushing hard at the front. After 30 kilometres they could enjoy a 7’05 lead over a pack led by the Trek Factory team of red jersey Fabian Cancellara. At a rather slow pace, the gap however continued to increase in the warm temperature (35°C) of Oman. After three hours of racing, the average speed had indeed dropped down to only 31.1km/h and the gap reached a maximum 14’45 at km 73. Teams BMC, Movistar and Trek then decided to take on the chase at a slightly faster pace. With 25kms to go, the front two could still enjoy a 3’50 lead. Ten kilometres later, that gap remained the same. At the second bonus sprint (km 178) won by Vandenbergh ahead of Van Hoecke, the pack led by Guardini, third, had moved closer, at 1’45. The front two were finally caught at km 183.
In the first few kilometres of the climb, Fabian Cancellara (TFR) was dropped, knowing then that he was living his last moments in red. A group of just over twenty riders pulled away with under 5 kilometres to go. After attacking twice, it was then Vincenzo Nibali’s turn to struggle wih 3kms to go, leaving ahead of him riders like Fuglsang (AST), van Garderen, Hermans (BMC), Majka (TCS), Moreno (KAT), Pinot (FDJ), Valverde (MOV), Janse Van Rensburg, Meintjes (MTN) and Valls (LAM). In the final kilometre only three men were left in the lead: van Garderen, Majka and Valls.
Valls eventually produced his effort in the last 500m powering away from his main rivals. He crossed the finish line victoriously with a 5” lead over van Garderen, 19” over Valverde and 22” over Majka. Thanks to his success, his first ever in Oman, Rafael Valls conquers the overall leader’s Red Jersey. The Spaniard has a 9” advantage over van Garderen and 19” over Valverde with two stages to go in this 6th edition. The points’ Green Jersey remains on the shoulders of Andrea Guardini while Louis Meintjes takes command of the best young rider classification (white jersey). Van Meirhaeghe comforts his lead in the combativity standing.
Stage 5 – Cancelled
Stage 5 of the Tour of Oman on February 21 was cancelled due to sandstorms and heat. The start went ahead with a shortened course because of the threat of sandstorms, but the race was soon neutralized and cancelled as temperatures climbed to nearly 50 Celsius. Riders were originally scheduled to race 151.5km from Al Sawadi Beach to Ministry of Housing.
Stage 6 – Tour triumph for Valls, stage win for Brandle
Winner of the decisive fourth stage at Green Mountain, Rafael Valls went on to claim the 2015 Tour of Oman. The Spaniard managed to keep all his rivals under control to conquer the most prestigious win of his career, ahead of Tejay van Garderen and Alejandro Valverde. The final stage of the event, from Oman Air to the Matrah Corniche, saw former hour record holder Matthias Brandle triumph on his own, after making the best of a long four-man breakaway.
The wind was still strong but the weather conditions were far cooler for day 6 of the Tour of Oman. The 138 remaining riders gathered in front of the Oman Air headquarters for the start of the final stage of the event. Carrying the overall leader’s Red Jersey, Rafael Valls (LAM) knew that the race was far from won. The Spaniard could indeed only enjoy a slim 9” advantage over his closest rival Tejay van Garderen (BMC) before a final demanding 133.5-km ride towards the Matrah Corniche, including two hard climbs.
The pack took off at 10:52 and after 7 kilometres, four men managed to break away: Pate (SKY), Keisse (EQS), Brandle (IAM) and the most aggressive rider of the event, Van Meirhaeghe (TSV), present in every single breakaway since the start of the race last Tuesday. A fifth man, Jelle Wallays (TSV) tried his luck to catch the front group but after moving within 10” of the escapees, he struggled and was eventually caught by the pack at km 20 while the leaders could enjoy a 3’15 advantage. The gap carried on increasing and reached a maximum 9’20 at km 55 before several teams (BMC, Cofidis, Movistar) really started chasing.
At the top of the first climb of the day (Al Hamriyah, km 89), won by Van Meirhaeghe ahead of Pate and Brandle, the pack remained 6’40 adrift. While several riders including Green jersey Andrea Guardini (AST) were dropped, the peloton broke up into several groups with the overall leader and the main favourites in the first bunch. The pack bunched up again before the first sprint (km 102.5) claimed by Van Meirhaeghe. At the top of the second climb (Al Jissah, km 106), the gap between the front group led by Keisse and the pack was of 5’20. The front four reached the final cicrcuit still enjoying a a 4’30 break.
At the second bonus sprint (1st crossing of the line at km 119), won by Pate ahead of Van Meirhaeghe and Keisse, the pack was still 3’20 behind with two laps to go. It was looking good for the escapees as they took on the final lap with a 2’15 lead. In the last climb of the day with 3kms to go, Matthias Brandle made his effort and took off. The Austrian managed to hang on to the lead all the way to the finish, winning this final stage with a 4” advantage of Iljo Keisse and 13” over Van Meirhaeghe. The former hour record holder conquers his first ever stage success in Oman. The pack led by Peter Sagan reached the line 1’16 adrift. Finishing in the pack, Rafael Valls wins this 6th edition of the Tour of Oman. The Spaniard who had won stage 4 at Green Mountain follows in the foosteps of riders such as Cancellara or Froome and claims his second professional win after a stage success at the 2012 Tour of San Luis in Argentina. The points classification is finally won by Andrea Guardini while Louis Meintjes (MTN) finishes best young rider. Jef Van Meirhaeghe wins the most aggressive rider jersey.
February 20 – Stage 4 – Sultan Qaboos Grande Mosque – Jabal Al Akhdhar “Green Mountain”
1. Rafael Valls Ferri (Esp) Lampre – Merida 5:46:48
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:05
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Esp) Movistar Team 0:19
4. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:22
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ 0:35
6. Rui Alberto Costa (Por) Lampre – Merida 0:49
7. Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka 0:54
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka 0:58
9. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team 1:00
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team
45. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 5:21
Stage 5 – February 21 – Al Sawadi Beach – Ministry of Housing 151.5km
Cancelled due to sandstorms and extreme heat
Stage 6 – February 22 – Oman Air – Muttrah Promenade 138.5km
1. Matthias Brändle (Aut) IAM Cycling 3:02:31
2. Iljo Keisse (Bel) Etixx-Quick Step 4
3. Jef Van Meirhaeghe (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise 0:13
4. Danny Pate (USA) Team Sky 0:16
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo 1:16
6. Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin
7. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
8. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
9. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
10. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Argon 18
31. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
1. Rafael Valls Ferri (Esp) Lampre – Merida 21:09:31
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 9
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Esp) Movistar Team 0:19
4. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:32
5. Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka 1:04
6. Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka 1:08
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 1:10
8. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team 1:15
9. Julian Arredondo Moreno (Col) Trek Factory Racing 1:25
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18 1:36
50. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 9:17