After last week’s sprintfest in Qatar, dominated by Mark Cavendish with four successive stage wins and the overall, the action on the Arabian peninsula this week turns to the rather bumpier landscape of Oman, with some of the men who will challenge for the win in this year’s major stage races getting back to racing, as well as top Classics specialists looking to get into form ahead of this spring's campaign.
It’s a star-studded field that will take to the start of Stage 1 tomorrow. There are three Tour de France winners for a start – Bradley Wiggins, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans – any of whom could vie with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Chris Froome and defending champion Peter Velits for the overall.
One caveat though, particularly when it comes to picking your Fantasty Cycling team with a view to the GC (start list here) – this early in the season, and with no UCI WorldTour points at stake, there’s every chance of some riders using Oman more to get some racing in their legs than to take a serious tilt at winning.
It's therefore worth casting your eyes over the start list to pick out name who perhaps would be seen more as support riders in Grand Tours, but have the talent to pick up a win in this type of race.
While it is likely to be Thursday’s summit finish on Stage 4 that will determine the overall with climbers coming to the fore, several of the other stages are less predictable.
Expect to see the likes of Tom Boonen, in his first race after surgery for an infected cut, Fabian Cancellara, Matt Goss, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, and Philippe Gilbert go head to head on some of those.
Tuesday’s Stage 2, for example has a profile highly reminiscent of a mini Milan-Sanremo, a race in which all those riders have a fifth place finish or higher.
Degenkolb’s Argos Shimano team mate Marcel Kittel is also back – like Sagan and Nibali, he was among the stage winners last time round, and Stages 1 and 3 are the likely bets for a bunch finish this time round.
Tony Gallopin, third behind Velits and Nibali on GC 12 months ago, also retuens and his RadioShack-Leopard team mate Cancellara is, besides Velits, the only other former overall winner in the field this year – he took the inaugural edition in 2010, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the race that year didn’t include that summit finish on Green Mountain.
Here's the Stage maps plus profiles of the stages as a whole and the closing kilometres.
Monday 11 February
Al Musannah – Sultan Qaboos University (162 km)
Tuesday 12 February
Fanja in Bidbid – Al Bustan (146km)
Wednesday 13 February
Nakhal Fort – Wadi Dayqah Dam (190km)
Thursday 14 February
Al Saltiyah in Samail – Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain) (152.5km)
Friday 15 February
Al Alam Palace – Ministry of Housing in Boshar (144km)
Saturday 16 February
Hawit Nagam Park – Matrah Corniche
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.