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Velits wins 2012 Tour of Oman

By staff - Fri Feb 17, 5:22 am

Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) sealed overall victory on the final day of the Tour of Oman, but only after enduring a tense battle for bonus seconds with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the road to Matrah Corniche.

It was a day of two sprints in Oman – Marcel Kittel (Project 1t4i) won the expected grandstand bunch finale to claim the stage, his second of the race, but it was the first intermediate sprint which provided the afternoon’s most compelling drama, thanks in no small part to the initial confusion over its outcome.

With Nibali lying just one second behind Velits on the general classification, the Sicilian made one last effort to leapfrog into first place overall by picking up the bonus seconds on offer at the Wave Muscat after 53km. A tactical build-up prefaced a chaotic sprint, as Velits’ Omega Pharma-Quick Step team looked to thwart Nibali by filling the top three places.

Tom Boonen and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck did their bit by crossing the line first and third, but race radio initially announced that Nibali had surprisingly captured the two-second bonus for second place and was now leader on the road.

While Liquigas and Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders debated amongst themselves as to who had finished where, the race jury set about reviewing the photo finish. Over 20 minutes later, the radio finally crackled into life again with a correction – Peter Sagan had been second across the line, while his teammate Nibali had just missed out on a bonus in fourth.

“We didn’t know what was happening because we were quite sure that he had not been second and picked up a bonus,” a relieved Velits said afterwards. “After a while the jury saw the pictures and it was quite clear that he didn’t get the seconds, but for a few kilometres after the sprint it was quite tense and I was quite stressed to be honest.”

Nibali himself admitted that he didn’t know where he had placed when he crossed the line amid the phalanx of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Liquigas-Cannondale jerseys at the sprint.

“Sagan, Velits and I all arrived together, and Chavanel was saying that I had finished fourth,” Nibali said after wheeling to a halt at the finish line. “If I’ve understood right, they did a photo finish and I think that was the right thing to do.”

Nibali takes on Omega Pharma-QuickStep

Taking on the collective might of Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s fastmen to pick up bonus seconds was always going to be a tall order for Nibali, and his task was complicated by a late change to the location of the day’s opening bonus sprint. “At the start, we though the sprint was going to be on a hill, but then they told us that wasn’t going to be the case anymore,” Nibali said.

After hunting down the day’s early four-man break, featuring Lee Rodgers (RTS Racing Team), Michael Schar (BMC), William Clarke (Champion System) and Alexandre Lemair (Bridgestone-Anchor), Liquigas-Cannondale tried to take Omega Pharma-QuickStep on at their own game by using the wind to try to split the field. “As the wind was coming from the left, Peter [Sagan] went early and we more or less formed an echelon,” Nibali said.

“Yeah, I led it out,” Sagan said. “Before the line I braked a little bit. I didn’t know whether they passed me before or after the line. The judges didn’t know and I didn’t know myself to be honest.”

When the dust settled, however, Nibali remained one second behind overall, and Velits could relax slightly in the knowledge that the second intermediate sprint on Matrah Corniche and the finish itself were far less conducive to a raid from his rival.

“Beforehand, we thought it might have been easier and that Liquigas mightn’t try, but of course they did,” Velits said, smiling afterwards. “But we were ready and we knew they would try and have four guys sprint, but the main point was to beat Vincenzo.”

Kittel continues German sprint domination

The second half of the stage was animated by a three-man move featuring Laurens Ten Dam and Garmin-Barracuda duo Johan Vansummeren and Christian Vande Velde, which snuck off the front after 62km. Omega Pharma-QuickStep, and Sylvain Chavanel in particular, patrolled affairs at a safe reserve of 1:30, happy to let the trio hoover up the bonuses on offer at the second intermediate sprint.

While a stiff headwind had slowed the peloton during the early exchanges, the pace clicked gradually upwards as the race reached the flat, fast finishing circuit at Matrah Corniche. To their credit, Vansummeren, Vande Velde and Ten Dam breathed life into their escape until the final seven-kilometre lap, but with so many sprinters in the field behind, there was a grim inevitability about their fate.

In the closing kilometres, it was the Project 1t4i team of Marcel Kittel that came to the front in a bid to set up the young German, and he repaid their faith by winding up for an authoritative sprint victory.

As was the case on stage 3, Kittel’s was a confident effort. With scant regard for the depth of sprinting talent about him in the tumult of the finishing straight, he went from a distance, almost daring anyone to come past him.

Peter Sagan was tucked on his wheel and acknowledged that he had no answer to Kittel’s show of force on the slightly downhill finish.”In the end, I was lucky because I got on Kittel’s wheel,” Sagan said. “He was so strong that I wound up in second.”

Next were two men with designs on results in Belgium in the coming weeks, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) and Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha), while Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) was fifth.

Mark Cavendish (Sky) crossed the line a disappointed 14th, while André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) made no impact and lost the points jersey to Sagan on another day where reliable lead-outs were at a premium.

“It’s not easy in the beginning of the year,” the winner Kittel said. “Everyone is trying to do a good lead-out but there are still some problems. For us it was the same in the beginning, but we’ve managed to find a way together. We know now that we can sprint against the top sprinters, as a team too, by staying in front and doing a really good lead-out.”

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