By David Hunter
The racing continues in the east, with the 9th edition of this race. We have the usual mix of stages for the sprinters, puncheurs and climbers.
We open with the standard sprint stage. Nothing much to see here.
One for the puncheurs, with the stinging climb of Al Jissah cresting with 5km to go. We usually see a small group of 10 riders approaching the line together.
It’s been a few years since this finish was used, the last winner was Peter Sagan back in 2012. It is one where some sprinters will hope to hang on, but will probably be won by a puncheur.
The usual Ministry of Tourism stage, with three ascents of the Bousher al Amerat climb. Just 117km long, this is a crazy stage full of attacks and difficult to control.
Queen stage with the climb of the Green Mountain. This is a tough effort, 5.7km at 10.5% and we should see the strongest climber take the stage and the GC.
We end with the 2nd sprint stage, featuring the well used finish in Matrah Corniche. The little kicker in the lap circuit makes it a frantic final lap.
Miguel Angel Lopez – two stage wins and 8th overall in the Vuelta, it’s safe to say that the Colombian enjoyed 2017. The talented climber will be one of the best riders in the sport and I’m excited to watch him develop this season. He arrives here with a strong team and he will look to try and not lose any time before the Green Mountain. Once on that climb, he will be one of the riders to beat. He loves steep slopes and the heat of Oman won’t trouble him. Lopez starts the race as one of the men to beat.
Rui Costa – the UAE rider enjoyed a brilliant start to 2017, which included finishing 2nd in this race. The route is very good news for him, as he can collect bonus seconds on the punchy days. He can’t compete on the big mountains in the grand tours, but they don’t seem to bother him in races of a week or less. His season started quietly in Australia, but I’m sure he’ll be much more competitive in this race.
Vincenzo Nibali – illness ruined his start to the year in San Juan, but he looked in good shape in Dubai. It is very difficult to predict when Nibali is about to peak, outside of the grand tours, but I think he looks good just now. He won this race in 2016 and riders like to return to races where they have previously gone well. He will be supported by Gorka Izagirre and Giovanni Visconti, that is a very strong team to beat. It would be good to see Nibali hitting some early form.
Merhawi Kudus – another rider that has good form in this race, finishing 9th in 2016 and 4th in 2017. He is one of many talented youngsters that we’re waiting to fully develop. An outstanding climber, he has improved in a number of aspects and should be able to take a step up in 2018. Looking at his rivals, he should be aiming to go better than last year and make it onto the podium.
Nico Roche – not a rider that usually starts the season in great form, but you never know! BMC have a strong squad and Roche could well be the surprise package on the Green Mountain.
Fabio Felline – the Italian continues to improve as a climber and he could challenge against this field. He’ll be targeting some stage wins early in the week and then hope to try and hang on in the mountains. In 2017, Visconti and Haas finished in the top 10, that should give Felline a huge amount of confidence. If he can take a stage and make the top 10, it will be a very successful week.
I will be brave/stupid and predict a win for Vincenzo Nibali. As I have already mentioned, it’s not easy to predict a Nibali peak, but I’ll give it a go.
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