Muscat: The queen stage of the Tour of Oman was at the height of expectations and the big guns battled it out in style on the final climb up Jabel Al Akhdhar. After catching the five breakaway riders of the day, the favourites awaited the last kilometres to pull away. Boosted by his overall leader’s red jersey, Ben Hermans kept his calm before making the difference in the last kilometre.
Ben Hermans victoriously crossed the finish line, beating Fabio Aru and Rui Costa, and clinching his second stage success of the week. The Belgian comforts his leadership and with one day to go, is on the verge of winning his first Tour of Oman.
There were some tense faces this morning at the start of stage five of the Tour of Oman. Despite the splendid setting at Samayil, the Geneal Classification (GC) contenders knew that the day would be a decisive one for overall victory. Would overall leader Ben Hermans (BMC) be able to keep his red jersey? Would Romain Bardet (ALM) be at the height of expectations after finishing second of the same stage a year ago and second again of the Tour de France last July? In terms of the general classification there was only 28’’ between the leader of the race and tenth man, Fabio Aru (AST), in other words not a lot seeing how tough the final climb of the day was (5.7kms at 10.5 percent).
And the expected battle up Jabel Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain) actually started far earlier. As soon as the riders took off for their 152.5-km ride, the pack broke up into two groups with all the main favourites at the front but Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) stranded in a second bunch. Despite enjoying a 30’’, the peloton gathered together again after 22kms.
Eventually, five men managed to break away: Mark Christian (ABS), Daniel Diaz (DMP), Olivier Pardini (WVA) Jonathan Clarke (UHC) and Preben Van Hecke (SVB).
Their lead grew rapidly and reached 6’ at km 50. But drama would then hit the race, both at the front and at the back. Indeed Mark Christian, already present in a break on Tuesday, hit the deck after going through water.
Meanwhile, in the pack, a massive crash occurred sending the likes of Romain Bardet to the ground. As a consequence, the gap grew even more: 8’10 at km 81 for the front five.
At the first intermediate sprint (km 90), won by Christian ahead of Van Hecke and Diaz, the gap reached 8’35’’. Team Astana then took control of the pack and started chasing. From then on the gap dropped: from 5’ with 25kms to go to 2’50’’ at the second bonus sprint (km 141), claimed by Van Hecke in front of Christian and Pardini.
Time had come for the final climb up Green Mountain. While the front five where caught in the first kilometres of the ascent with 4 kms to go, Lachlan Morton (DDD) was the first to give it a go. The Australian was caught in the last 3 kilometres by 16 riders including 8 of the Top 10 GC men. It was then Merhawi Kudus’ turn to take off just before the final kilometre but he too was reeled in.
Victory finally went to the red jersey himself, Ben Hermans, who powered off with 750m to go, beating Fabio Aru (AST) by just 3’’ while Rui Costa (UAD) crossed the line third, 11’’ adrift.
Thanks to his second success this week, after triumphing at Al Bustan, Hermans comforts his overall leadership and now has a 22’’ advantage over Rui Costa and 35’’over Aru. On the eve of the final stage on the Muttrah Corniche, the BMC rider has all the cards in hands to conquer his very first Tour of Oman. He now also leads the points classification while Kudus (DDD), fifth on Saturday, remains the best young rider. The Most aggressive rider’s jersey changes shoulders and returns to those of Mark Christian.