Muscat: The fourth edition of the much awaited Tour of Oman is all set to begin from Al Musannah today. Big names in international cycling which include Sir Bradley Wiggins, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador will feature in the gruelling six-day tour that will take them through some of the country's most picturesque locales across the 940km distance.
The last three editions of the Tour of Oman have been immensely successful as the Sultanate provides a challenging route and this year 144 top cyclists from 18 teams will compete to take the top position in the race organised by Muscat Municipality in association with the legendary Eddy Merckx and Amaury Sport Organisation (ASA).
Announcing the plans of the event, Saif Al Rashidi, director general of Muscat Municipality said the Tour has vastly grown over the last four years. "We have come out of age and we are here at the fourth edition. The race has only grown from strength to strength. Last year we had 16 teams and this year it's up by two teams," Al Rashidi said at the Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa yesterday. The total prize money of the race is OMR 56,000.
The first stage will kick off from Al Musannah at 12pm under the auspices of the Governor of Al Musannah as well as Sultan Hamdoon Al Harthi, head of Muscat Muncipality and organiser of the Tour of Oman. The riders are expected to test the legs of the bigger peleton in a breakaway scenario and it will be reeled in with a mass sprint to the finish-line at Sultan Qaboos University. The stage two consist of 146-km that will take riders from Fanja in Bidbid and will finish at Al Bustan. However, according to Merckz, the stage four up the Jabal Al Akhdhar is expected to provide a real challenge to the riders. "That is going to be a tough climb," Merckz noted. "The tour of Oman is such an amazing example of what potential and willpower together can achieve in such a short span of time," he said.
Interestingly, Team Sky cyclists Wiggins and Chris Froome, the first and second finishers in the Tour de France are competing against each other in the same stage race.
Nevertheless, Wiggins is expected to face a tough battle from Evans and Contador who were the winners of Tour de France. "Three among the four winners would be participating in this race here and that show how important Tour of Oman has become," Merckz added. The sixth and the final stage of the race will cover 144km from Sink Hole Park till Muttrah Corniche where winner of the fourth edition will be declared. Mohammed Al Shikely, Marketing general manager of Oman Air and Thierry Gouvenou, sport manager of ASA was also present at the press conference yesterday.