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Classics riders turn to Oman for cobble prep

After the Tour of Qatar was canceled, riders targeting the spring classics headed to Oman — and are happy with the result.

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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — The classics men could all be found in the Tour of Qatar in early February for more than a decade, but with the race’s cancellation, many turned to the Tour of Oman.

Oman’s rugged and mountainous countryside along the Arabian Sea surprisingly makes the perfect launchpad for the monuments Milano-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix starting March 18.

“I think that the guys like me certainly do miss Qatar, but this is a great race and I love it,” Tyler Farrar said after Friday’s Tour of Oman stage 4 in Muscat’s outskirts.

“As a preparation race, it is ideal because we have good weather and climbing stages that we can suffer on. In the 120 kilometers today, we did more than 2,000 meters of climbing. It’s for real. Qatar was about speed training, but it is good to come to Oman and suffer up climbs for the classics as well.”

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Farrar this week is working for sprinter Kristian Sbaragli and for Merhawi Kudus in the overall classification.

Top Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff (Katusha – Alpecin), winner of the 2014 Milano-Sanremo and the 2015 Tour of Flanders, celebrated a few paces behind Farrar. He won his second stage by climbing and then sprinting, something he will need to do to arrive in Sanremo a victor.

“For me, it is good to get the climbing a little bit, you also have climbing in the classics,” Kristoff said. “It helps to suffer and go deep here and get your shape better.

“And you also get the boost of D vitamins with the sun! Here you at least know that you’re going to have good weather and you don’t worry about any snow or cold stages.”

The mercury has reached around 85 degrees each day in Oman this week, which is warm but not overly hot as in previous years. The weather is much more consistent and warmer compared to what teams would find in the Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve, two stage races going on now in Europe.

“It’s important for my training,” said 2014 Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra of Quick-Step Floors. “We try to perform well here to get the race pace and the race legs, and this is a great place for that. There are some hills here that make it a tough race for riders like me. And then there’s the weather, which is the most important thing.”

“For sure it is important because it’s hot here and the routes are good because it’s not completely flat like Qatar,” added Wilier – Selle Italia rider Filippo Pozzato. “It’s a mixed course that allows you to come out with good legs. This is one of best races to prepare for the classics.”

The Tour of Qatar ran for the last 15 years in early February before the organizer canceled it at the last minute this winter. Classics riders sang its praises due to the high-speed efforts and echelon riding they would find in the Persian Gulf’s desert peninsula.

Many general classification men like past winners Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali would race in the Tour of Oman, instead. That is still the case this year, but the classics men are adapting in Qatar’s absence — and seem happy to do so.

“I prefer racing with climbs versus the flats,” continued Pozzato. “For sure, Qatar is good for the flats and echelons, but I’ve always been one who doesn’t like training on flat roads.

“In between the classics in the north, I go back home to Monaco because I don’t like to stay there riding on Belgium’s flat roads. In Oman, that race training comes naturally because there are not any flat roads.”

The Tour of Qatar paved the way for the Tour of Oman, the Dubai Tour, and the latest of Middle Eastern races, the Abu Dhabi Tour. Qatar offered windy days like no other place in the world, said Quick-Step’s Tom Boonen. Even without Qatar in 2017, classics riders are able to select from a variety of warm weather races and terrains to build for the spring classics.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re racing in Spain or in the Middle East, but I think it’s good that the Middle Eastern countries are interested in the races because that makes the races more global,” Terpstra said.

“It’s important for cycling, not only for the riders but for globalization. It’s good for cycling in general.”

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