With no ITT this year, Stage 5's summit finish promises to decide GC

Following Tom Boonen’s victory in the Tour of Qatar last week, Oman today sees the start of the second of the Middle East's multi-stage races on the pro cycling calendar, back for its third edition and, what’s more, making its debut in our Fantasy Cycling game.

It promises to be a very different race to Qatar– yes, there are chances for the sprinters to take stage wins, but Saturday’s race finish on Green Mountain looks likely to be the race decider, with the hills rather than the wind causing the selection and some potentially explosive stages in prospect.

The two overall winners to date – Fabian Cancellara in 2010 and Robert Gesink last year – both used an individual time trial victory as the platform for their success, but there’s no such stage this year. The time trial that Rabobank’s Gesink won, by the way, finished on Green Mountain – but the Dutchman is missing this year.

The official start list shows plenty of other big names though who are likely to fight it out for the GC on that stage, potentially presenting a similar scenario to the battle between Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans of GreenEdge at the Tour Down Under.

Neither is  in Oman – indeed, Movistar aren’t in the race at all – but there’s a first chance to see RadioShack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck in action since he was awarded the 2010 Tour de France title.

Another of that year’s Grand Tour winners is present in the shape of Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vicenzo Nibali, who failed to repeat that form in 2011 and so perhaps has something to prove here.

Besides that summit finish on Stage 5, the previous day features three laps of a bumpy finishing circuit inside the final 40 or so kilometres, which could well be a day for the Classics specialists to show their form, as Boonen did last week; the Belgian is a past stage winner here.

Boonen, for his rivals, is in ominous form – on the three previous occasions he’s won in Qatar he’s gone on to win either the Tour of Flanders or Paris Roubaix – but someone with a bit more to prove is Garmin-Barracuda’s Tyler Farrar, yet to notch up an individual win in 2012. Despite that, the US outfit’s performance in the Team Time Trial helped him finish second overall.

World champion Mark Cavendish, battered and bruised in a crash close to line of the final stage in Qatar, is determined to do the rainbow jersey justice with Team Sky and already has two victories in the bank; winner of the final stage in Oman last year, he’s clearly the man to beat in bunch sprints, but his old team mate and sparring partner Andre Greipel is back from illness, setting up some intriguing battles.

One Team Sky rider not here is Michael Barry, who broke his elbow in Qatar, and that gives a debut to young Welsh rider Luke Rowe. He’ll be hoping to make a similar impression to the one another young British rider, Adam Blythe of BMC Racing, made in Qatar, and as we saw there, plenty of other riders in the early years of their pro careers will be aiming to make an impact.

Half-hour highlights of each stage will be shown on British Eurosport the following day.

Tour of Oman 2012

Stage 1
Tuesday 14 February
Al Alam Royal Palace to Wadi Al Hoqay (159km)

Stage 2
Wednesday 15 February
Surto Wadi Dayqah Dam (140.5km) 

Stage 3
Thursday 16 February
Al Awabi (Al Alya) to Muscat Heights (Bank Muscat HQ) (144.5km)

Stage 4
Friday 17 February
Bidbid (Nafa'a) to Al Wadi Al Kabir (142.5km)

Stage 5
Saturday 18 February
Royal Opera House, Muscat to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain) (158km/

Stage 6
Sunday 19 February
Al Khawd to Matrah Corniche (130.5km)

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.