Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Tim Merlier picked up where he left off last season, picking up a victory in a bunch sprint.
The Belgian champ was racing in Soudal Quick-Step colors for only the second time after debuting in the one-day Muscat Classic the day before.
After his hyped-up switch to the big Belgian team over the winter, the pressure was always going to be on Merlier to deliver the results and ensure that team boss Patrick Lefevere wouldn’t be bemoaning his performances in a few months’ time.
That won’t be happening after Merlier reconfirmed his place as one of the fastest men in the peloton Saturday. The win comes amidst a whirlwind couple of weeks for Merlier, who welcomed his first child last week.
“I am now 11 days a father and it was a sign for the birth of my son,” Merlier said at the finish. “I’m happy to be able to win so soon after he was born.
“Of course, I want to take the first win for the team as fast as possible. I already had a win in cyclocross but on the road is more important than in cyclocross. I’m really happy with this victory and with the team.”
- Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl signs Jan Hirt, Tim Merlier and Casper Pedersen
- Tim Merlier wins big on Tour of Oman stage 1
The opening stage of the Tour of Oman was the best chance for the sprinters to get a victory and there will be limited opportunities for the fast men going forward. The peloton ensured a safe, early catch with 16km to go and prepared for the inevitable bunch gallop.
With the Muscat Classic proving to be one for the more durable fastmen, the finish into Muscat was the first chance that Merlier had to really test his sprint train under racing circumstances. Working with a new train, even if it is one of the best in the world, can involve some teething problems and it almost went wrong for Merlier in the final meters.
There was no panic from Merlier, who calmly got himself back on the tail of his leadout before delivering a knockout sprint to the line.
“It was a really slow stage, and it was difficult to find the position because everybody was fresh. In the end, it was quite easy to follow Bert [Van Lerberghe]. Just before the final corner, I lost him a little bit and then when I got back, I gave a sign to Bert and Bert gave a sign to Jordi Warlop and from there the leadout was starting and I went a bit early, but it was still enough to win the stage,” he said.
There may be some more opportunities for Merlier to add to his win tally across the five days of racing, but they’re going to be tough and he’s likely already pondering about what he can do when he gets back to Europe and his native Belgium.