Muscat: Winner of two stages last year, Marcel Kittel hit back in style on this fourth edition of the Tour of Oman flagged off at Al Musannah yesterday. The German powered to the line outsprinting all his rivals in a final bunched sprint. Kittel captures the very first overall leader's Red Jersey of this 2013 Tour.
For its fourth edition, the best riders in the World showed up at the start of Stage 1.
An unprecedented field of champions including three former Tour de France winners: Alberto Contador (TST), Cadel Evans (BMC) and Bradley Wiggins (SKY), as well as last year's winner Peter Velits (OPQ) and contenders such as Froome (SKY), Nibali (AST) and Rodriguez (KAT).
142 riders representing 18 different teams took off just after noon for a 162km stage from the Al Musannah resort, all the way to the Sultan Qaboos University.
Hilal Al Hajri, Governor of Batinah South, Saif Al Rashidi Director General External Relations for Muscat Municipality and Eddy Merckx cut the opening ribbon and dropped the start flag to begin what is hotly anticipated as the race of the year where the top riders in the world will gauge each other's form.
Speaking at the starting line Al Hajri said: " I congratulate Muscat Municipality on their achievement and organisation of such an impressive race. It is a huge exercise in logistics and I am glad the local and international media are promoting the beauty of Oman to the world. There is no doubt that they have chosen Al Musannah to host this first stage due to its beautiful beaches and facilities for sports."
As soon as the first kilometre, two riders broke away from the pack: Traksel (CSS) and Uchima (JPN). Their lead grew rapidly, from 1'30 at km 5 to a maximum 9'25 at km 39.
Traksel was first to reach the top of the first climb of the day close to the striking 18th century Al Rustaq fort (km 45.5) ahead of Uchima while the pack led by Stamsnijder (ARG) remained 9' adrift.
The front two carried on their progression towards the south and then the west. They reached the first intermediate sprint (km 65) won by Traksel ahead of Uchima and Rollin (FDJ) with a 6'45 advantage. While teams Argos-Shimano and Orica Greenedge continued chasing, the gap dropped down to 5'20 at km 104.
The second bonus sprint at Al Wabi was again claimed by Traksel ahead of Uchita and Colbrelli (BAR) while the pack was 2'30 behind. At km 134, Uchita powered away as Traksel stopped his effort. The Japanese rider could still enjoy a 1'20 lead with 25 kilometres to go, and 52", 20 kilometres from the line.
The last escapee was finally caught at 147km. From then on, the pack remained bunched all the way to the Sultan Qaboos University where a "battle royale" was to take place. Winner of two stages last year, Marcel Kittel (ARG) proved once again he was the master when it came down to a bunched sprint.
The German beat Appollonio (ALM) and Bouhanni (FDJ) to the line. Kittel captures both the overall leader's Red Jersey and the points' standings Green Jersey.
He also leads the best young rider classification while Traksel is the most aggressive rider after this first stage of the event.
Omantel's Chief Executive Officer Dr Amer Al Rawas was the chief guest for the prize giving and stated that "it is exceptionally fitting that the winner, here at Sultan Qaboos University, which is the home of our young nation, is himself a young rider.
"I am sure he will provide inspiration to the students, their siblings and parents to now take up this sport."
Today's s stage will start in Fanja in Bidbid at 1220hrs. With a 146km route including two mountain climbs of Al Hamriya and Al Jissah, the cyclists will be passing through Bidbid, Samail Gap as well as Bousher and Al Wattayah before finishing in Al Bustan village at approximately 1545hrs.