It’s just some results this week. There are other things going on, but they are Puerto related and I thought we’d let it run its course before trying to tackling that hornet’s nest of a situation.
Sky’s Chris Froome couldn’t have had a better start to 2013, winning a stage and the overall classification in Oman.
It is very encouraging for the Kenyan born British rider, who managed to keep all the other big GC contenders at bay. Nibali (Astana), Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Evans (BMC) were all powerless to compete with Froome whose performance confirmed that he is a serious contender for the Grand Tours.
On route to his Red winner’s jersey, Froome won Stage 5 in gruelling fashion. The stage finished in a sprint between him and Contador, straight into a head wind. Froome managed to hold Contador to take the stage.
Perhaps more interesting however, was Froome’s performance during Stage 4. The stage was a real treat for fans, with all the top riders going head to head in the run up to a hill-top finish. In the end, after a string of attacks from Evans, Contador and Nibali, Froome’s climbing form came to the fore. Managing to jump away in an attempt to catch Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Froome’s last kilometre effort made all the difference. He was able to distance the other favourites by 18 seconds. Rodriguez took a well deserved stage win.
It was an impressive effort by Froome, who clearly showed he has had a superb winter training session. He was keen to play down any real talk of the Grand Tours – a lot can happen before July – but even so, he looked supreme. Sky were able to give him all the support he needed, with Richie Porte in particular playing an important role. The 2012 TdF runner-up stayed tucked in the pack on Stage 6, which ended in a sprint finish.
Form can change, but what the Tour of Oman does infer is Sky’s plan for 2013. Bradley Wiggins kept his head down, finishing 74th, nearly 23 minutes behind Froome. Tellingly, Wiggins rode for Froome at a number of points during the race, putting in large turns on the front. Hopefully Oman has put to bed some of the speculation that has been rife about who Sky’s Team Leader will be come the summer.
The Tour of Oman was the first chance to see the GC contenders battling it out in early season skirmishes, but the sprinters should not be ignored. So far this season Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) has shown his form at the Tour Down Under and Mark Cavendish has blossomed at Omega Pharma Quickstep.
Not one to be left out of things, Slovakian sprinting revelation Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale) made sure that everyone knew what sort of form he was in, winning Stages 2 and 3. Sagan, who properly burst onto the pro-scene at his first Tour de France last year (winning the Green Jersey, three stages and a Porsche in a bet with his team boss), showed a masterful match of sprinting power and climbing prowess. His perfect pairing of the two must surely terrify his opponents.
Sagan is also known for his exuberant celebrations, tending to coin a new one every time he wins a stage. The Tour of Oman was no different. After rolling over the line first, he celebrated Stage 2 with an exaggerated ‘thumbs up’. After blasting off his opponents in the sprint finish in Stage 3, Sagan simply asked the question – ‘where is everyone?’
Exuberance aside, Cavendish and Greipel can win sprints – but Sagan can climb as well. Don’t bet against him winning the Green Jersey in 2013.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quickstep) smashed the final Individual Time Trial in the four day Tour of the Algarve in Portugal, winning the Overall Classification as a result.
The German time-trial reigning World Champion covered the 38.4km route in 45:09, beating his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski into second place by 1:07. Martin’s dominance in the discipline is still staggering.
Staggering as it may be, it doesn’t say much about the race as a whole however. The Volta Ao Algarve has become a little bit of a training ground for those targeting the Spring Classics. This year the big teams tended to put out their bigger talents in Oman, so it provided a nice opportunity for the other riders on the roster.
The race gave another massive boost to Blanco, who have made an emphatic start to 2013. Paul Martens and Theo Bos won stages 1 and 2 respectively, taking the Dutch team’s stage win tally to five so far this year. With Tom-Jelte Slagter’s Tour Down Under win on top, Blanco are certainly a team to watch.
Sky also had further reassurances that they are on the right track. After Geraint Thomas’ good showing in the Tour Down Under, and Froome’s win in Oman, Colombian rider Sergio Henao clambered into the leader’s jersey after winning Stage 3. Although he lost it to Martin in the TT (nothing to be embarrassed about), Henao and Sky can take solace in the fact that the stage victory came from a short sharp climb to another hilltop finish. All the evidence indicates so far that Sky are building a roster of fantastic climbers ahead of the lumpy 2013 TdF route.