- Published on Monday, 17 February 2014 22:42
18th - 23rd February
It's the fifth running of the Tour of Oman this week, completing the trilogy of short stage races in the middle eastern sands before the move back to the start of the European season proper and the countdown to the classics. Chris Froome kicks off his season attempting to retain his crown from 2013.
Previous Winners of the Tour of Oman
2013 Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky
|2012 Peter Velits (SLO) OPQS|
|2011 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank|
|2010 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) Radioshack|
The Tour of Oman is different to the tours of Dubai and Qatar in that it has hills! A fact that is clear to see from the top 10 of last year's GC, a who's who of some of the best climbers in the world. Chris Froome won it from Contador, Evans and Rodriguez, with Nibali and Pozzovivo also in the top 10. The outcome and GC is usually decided on the slopes of Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), where the last 5.7kms average over 10%. This stage was won last year by Rodriguez with Froome just 4" back to set him up for overall victory.
It's the first time that some of the main contenders for the grand tours come head to head and it will be a key battle early in the season to see if Froome can lay down an early marker like he did last season or whether his rivals can strike an early blow.
An interesting side show to the race is the return of the Schleck brothers, with Frank joining his brother Andy for the first time since his ban for Xipamide in 2012. I can't really see either of them featuring too prominently at the front of the race but it will be interesting to see if they show any glimpses of form.
There are time bonuses available on each stage - 3,2,1 for the intermediates sprints and 10,6 and 4 seconds for the first 3 home at the finish line. Some of the stages have intermediate sprints quite late on the route so it should make for very fast racing towards the tail end of the stages.
The 18 teams of 8 riders will face six stages with varying profiles, starting from two sprinter stages and then heading in to a more lumpy 3rd stage and then two mountainous stages which will decide the outcome of the race. The race then ends with another sprinters stage in the Matrah Corniche on Sunday the 23rd.
Click on each tab to read stage previews and recommendations.
Stage 1 - As Suwayq Castle to Naseem Garden, 164.5km
Tuesday 18th February
Stage 1 is almost certainly a day for the sprinters but the question is who can beat Greipel? The route takes the riders south in a horse-shoe shape over the easy climb of Al Rustaq before heading back north to the coast again to the finish in Naseem Garden. There is an intermediate sprint point just 16kms from the finish so it is sure to be fast and furious a long way from the finish.
Nacer Bouhanni to me looks like the most likely to beat Greipel in an out-and-out sprint to the line. The little French boxer can scrap his way on to Greipel's leadout and has a very fast burst of speed that could take him close to beating the Gorilla. I say take him close, but I still think no-one will beat Lotto-Belisol and Greipel should they get their lead-out right like they did in Qatar. I wouldn't be surprised if Bouhanni takes the intermediate sprint but Greipel takes the stage and the yellow jersey by a small margin.
Boonen and Sagan should be in the mix as well, but I think Sagan has designs on stages later on in the race and may not have the top-end pace to trouble Bouhanni and Greipel. Tom Boonen has had a great start to the year, but his best result in that stage in the Tour of Qatar came at the end of a really hard stage which took the strength out of Greipel's legs a little. In a helter skelter sprint like this though I think 3rd - 6th is the best he can hope for. Sam Bennett is 40/1 for the stage, no longer the 100/1 and 66/1 available on him like in Qatar, but I think 4th to 7th might be best for him tomorrow, there are other opportunities later in the week for him that I might wait for.
Ben Swift, Daniele Bennati and Barry Markus are all around the 18-25/1 mark and if I was to pick one of the three of them to sneak in to the top 3 I think I would just marginally favour Ben Swift at 18/1 with BetVictor following his strong showings in Mallorca with a 2nd and a 3rd place finish (actually since first publishing this Ladbrokes have come out with 25/1 on Swift and that is a better price, so I recommend taking that instead). He is 7/4 to beat Peter Sagan in a match bet and I think that looks like a nice bet.
Andre Greipel, 2pts win at 6/5 with BetVictor
Ben Swift 0.5pts each-way at 25/1 with Ladbrokes
Ben Swift to beat Peter Sagan in a match bet, 2pts at 7/4 with Bet365
Stage 2 - Al Bustan to Quriyat, 139km
Wednesday 19th February
So a good start to Oman for us with two winning bets. First up, our headline bet, André Greipel came back from being caught out by the cross winds with 20km to go (splits that also saw Purito and Ben Swift among those cast adrift) to just take the sprint from Leigh Howard (OGE) and Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani).
Secondly, Ben Swift won his match bet with Peter Sagan at a very nice price of 7/4 (Sagan was 1/2 I believe). They may have finished in 13th and 18th place, but that's the beauty of betting on match bets like this, doesn't matter where they finish. Unfortunately Swifty got boxed in in the last 1500m so he was unable to really put in a proper sprint and he was disappointed with the outcome. I think I'll give him another chance tomorrow to get it right at 25/1 again.
Unfortunately for our Outright Match Bet between Konig and Pinot, Pinot's illness got worse overnight and he had a 39º fever so was unable to start the stage today. So that bet was voided - if he had even started the stage and abandoned it would have won! Unlucky for Pinot too though, to get sick on the eve of the race like that.
So on to Stage 2 and it should play out very similarly to today's stage. An early break will go as the road goes gently upwards for the first 55km or so but the chase will probably start in earnest once the feed station has been passed with 81km gone. With the second intermediate sprint coming just 17.5km from the finish expect the break to be pulled back with about 25km to go and the pace will really be up for the remainder of the stage.
They reach Quriyat with about 40km to go but go out on a loop in to the little hills outside the city, before descending back to the coast for a fast run-in to the finish. Lotto-Belisol were superb again today with Roelandts and Sieberg delivering Greipel expertly at the finish and I can see just more of the same tomorrow. At 3/4 I am tempted to roll profits on to him but I think I will leave it and look elsewhere for some value.
As I mentioned already, I am going to give Swift another go tomorrow, I hate leaving a rider who I fancied only to see them pull it off the next day! Tomorrow is a very similar stage and Swift says he will use Cataldo a bit more tomorrow and hopefully he can get it right for us at 25/1 with BetVictor.
Finally, Belkin came to the front in the last few kilometres today with their intentions to deliver Barry Markus at the finish not quite working out. I can see them mixing it up again tomorrow with L-B and maybe Markus can sneak in to the placings at 25/1 each-way, or else take him in a match bet at 3/5 to beat Ruffoni, I don't think we will see him in the top 6 two days running. Small stakes tomorrow, keep the powder dry for later in the week.
Ben Swift - 1pt e/w at 25/1 with BetVictor
Barry Markus - 0.5pt e/w at 25/1 with Bet365
Barry Markus to beat Nicola Ruffoni in a match bet, 1pt at 3/5 with Bet365
Video highlights of Stage 1
Stage 3 - Bank Muscat to Al Bustan, 145km
Thursday 20th February
So it was a bit of a whitewash with the bets in Oman yesterday, with Swift finishing in more or less the same place as the day before down in 12th and Barry Markus finished in 15th. Alex Kristoff took the sprint from Leigh Howard who finished 2nd for the second day in a row, and it was enough to put him in to the race leaders red jersey. Tom Boonen took 3rd spot in what was a tough sprint in to a strong head wind.
Disappointment of the day was odds-on favourite André Greipel who rolled in in 25th place, but the reason for this was he broke his chain when winding up his sprint. Barry Markus was unlucky as he had positioned himself on Greipel's wheel only for Greipel to have his mechanical. Belkin also lost Wagner to a puncture with 4km to go, a key lead-out man for Markus, so a disappointing finish for Markus and our bet on him!
On to stage 3 then and we should see the first real shake-up in the GC as they head in to more lumpy terrain. They start out from Bank Muscat heading west, climbing gently for about the first 50km, before doubling back on themselves and then generally heading in an eastern direction back towards the finish in Al Bustan. Before they reach the finish though they have to get over the climb of Al Hamriya with 24kms to go and Al Jissah with just 6.5km to go.
The climb of Al Hamriya may be just 800m long, but it averages 9.8% and it will come as a shock to the legs compared to the relatively flat Tour up until then! In fact, the last 100km or so of this stage are almost identical to Stage 2 from last year's race which was won by Sagan from Gallopin, Elmiger, Nibali and Stybar. Daryl Impey and Bouhanni rounded out the top 10 of the riders who are appearing again this year.
That first climb should shed some straight away but then they hit the climb of Al Jissah (1.4km at 9% average) with just 6.5km to go and that should make the final selection of maybe 40 or 50 riders who should fight out the finish. Last year it was a bit chaotic as they hit a little rise that comes with about 2.5km to go and Nibali, Contador and Elmiger attacked - Sagan caught them and just shot right past them to solo to an impressive stage victory. I can see similar riders being involved of course this year but I can't see them letting Sagan pull that move two years running.
Of course, even if it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint you would normally have to fancy Sagan. Now he has been very quiet so far this season and I guess we will find out tomorrow whether that is down to a lack of form or whether he has just been biding his time for this stage.. Personally though I am not willing to back him at 6/4 considering his form to date, I'm looking for other opportunities at better prices instead.
I've been waiting for this stage to have a bet on Sam Bennett as I think this is the kind of finish he will like, much more than the straight line sprints of the last two days. Remember in the TOB when he won his stage at Caerphilly, well they had to get over Caerphilly mountain, a climb not too dissimilar to what they face tomorrow. I remember the win fondly as I backed him at 10/1 with just about 1km to go as I worked out he was probably the best sprinter in the leading group. I can see a similar group of maybe 40 or less coming to the finish tomorrow. Although he faces a class field of the likes of Gilbert, Boonen, Elmiger, Stybar, Moreno etc I think he will be 'under the radar' a little with the big boys and I fancy him to put in a big ride tomorrow so I have backed him at 22/1 with BetVictor .
Zdenek Stybar has been imperious as usual in the cross country field this year but has been quite so far on the road. He put in a great performance on this stage last year to take 5th though and I think he could be a dark horse tomorrow too. At 16/1 I have had a little each-way. Boonen and Gilbert are near the top of the betting, but Boonen might find the pace a little too hot on that last climb if things really heat up, same goes for Gilbert, and even if he comes to the finish with the leading group I don't think Gilbert has the kick to get in the top 3, so I'm not backing him either.
It should be a cracking finish to the stage and we should see Howard replaced in the leader's jersey, the question is, by whom? It could be Tony Gallopin who is just 11" off the lead and finished 2nd here last year, or I wouldn't even rule out Nacer Bouhanni, he finished more or less with the leading group last year and if he can be involved at the finish again and with a 10" time bonus he could do it too. But there are lots of possibilities for this and it's almost impossible to predict!
Sam Bennett - 0.8pts each-way at 22/1 with BetVictor
Zdenek Stybar - 0.5pts each-way at 16/1 with BetVictor
Match Bet Acca - Gallopin to beat Battaglin, Stybar to beat Boom, Impey to beat Gavazzi, pays 7/4 with Bet365. (adding Bouhanni to beat Greipel pays nearly 4/1)
Stage 4 - Wadi Al Abiyad to Ministry of Housing, 173km
Friday 21st February
I didn't get to see/follow much of what happened today but it came as a real surprise to me to see Greipel win the stage. It didn't come as a surprise to me though that it did finish in a reduced bunch sprint so I'm glad I didn't take such short odds on Sagan as I felt there may have been someone might beat him. He was very unlucky though as I guess he, like almost everyone else, had not expected Greipel to be still there at the finish. I did briefly look at greipel last night and his 66/1 did look attractive for a second, but I thought, no, he is 66/1 for a reason, that is he will not be involved at the finish. It just shows what superb form the big German is in at the moment though, he is cleaning up this season already.
Stybar was unlucky for us in that he was in the final attack of the day but they were reeled back in and then he finished 5th in the bunch sprint, just outside our each-way bet. Not sure at this point what happened to Sam Bennett, but he finished over four and a half minutes down, something must have gone amiss. Nacer Bouhanni finished an impressive 3rd, I did mention him last night as someone who could get involved at the finish, but didn't back him at the 20/1 or so that he was. Ben Swift almost had me cursing as he almost made the placings on a day when I didn't back him, narrowly missing out in 4th.
Stage 4 takes the riders on a relatively flat course eastwards towards the city of Al Khoud and on to the finishing circuit which takes in four passes of the climb of Bousher Alamrat (335m) before they finish at the Ministry of Housing. It is sure to be another incident packed finale with the four ascents in the last 66kms making for a war of attrition on those with tired legs after today's stage.
Last year, when they went over the Bousher Alamrat climb just three times, it was Chris Froome who emerged victorious ahead of Contador and Rodriguez, with Impey and Stybar just behind. There's no Contador tomorrow and with Rodriguez not on top form (and targeting stage 5 up Green Mountain) you would have to imagine the likes of Froome, Impey, Stybar, Sagan, Cancellara and Gilbert will be involved again. It was interesting to see Cancellara go on the attack today as he has been very quiet so far this season, maybe he is starting to test his legs and could well fancy another crack tomorrow. Froome also looked strong and in control today and looked to be sending out a few 'feelers' for the opposition.
You would have to fancy Sagan though to take revenge on missing out today, I REALLY can't see Greipel being involved in the finish this time around, so you would have to think if Sagan can stick with Froome and co. when the climbers really go for it then he will not be beaten. Froome tested the legs a little today but I think tomorrow he will go a little harder, and harder again on Saturday.
Stybar should be well in the mix again given his strong showing last year and his 5th place on today's stage, and there could be the likes of Impey, Swift, Gilbert and more who could all still be involved last time up the Bousher Alamrat. Will Stybar find it harder going a 4th time up the hill this year? Will Froome up the pace over the last two climbs with a really hard attack on the last lap? Two riders that should be involved given the terrain are the two amigos from Katusha Rodriguez and Moreno. They may have their target on the next day though, so although I am tempted to have a go on Moreno at a big looking 28/1 I think he will be restrained with a job to do on Saturday.
Nicholas Roche had a dig off the front today, suggesting he is recovering well from the knee injury and he sits just 20" off the lead. Depending on just how well the knee is, he might be able to hang in there with Froome and co and could be involved at the finish. He of course tends to get going later in the season normally but with his programme shifted this year to take in the Giro in Ireland he may well be looking to test himself a bit earlier than normal. At 66/1 he is worth a pound or two each way for an interest.
So again, a really hard one to call. Froome should repeat his strong showing from last year but it may not be a victory like last year as Sagan could mug him. Then again, I'm not 100% confident Sagan will be there at the finish if they have raced really hard last time up. Instead, I am going to take a chance on Stybar at a big looking 16/1 (he is as low as 13/2) to hang in there and outsprint Froome at the finish. Cancellara could surprise at 80/1 as could Roche and Moreno. Kreuziger has been talked up today but I'm not getting involved with him, even at the 20/1 with Ladbrokes. Gesink should be able to stick with the better climbers, but I think he would be outsprinted by a few at the finish. What about Nibali? Will we finally see him emerge from the shadows to welcome his impending arrival with a nice trophy and a bunch of flowers? He hasn't shown anything to me to say he will, so I'll be waiting for him for another race in a few weeks.
0.8pts each way on Zdenek Stybar at 16/1 with BetVictor
0.2pts each way on Nicholas Roche at 66/1 with Bet365
2pts Match Bet Acca on the four I fancy to do well tomorrow:
Froome to beat Kreuziger, Stybar to beat Gilbert, Impey to beat Gavazzi and Gesink to beat Van den Broeck - it pays 3.1/1 with Bet365
Stage 5 - BidBid to Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), 147.5km
Saturday 22nd February
Froome tried, but failed to get away on the 4th ascent of the Bousher Alamrat and when they started the descent to the finish Sagan escaped off the front along with Nibali and Uran. They got over 20" at one stage but were practically caught by the time they crossed the line. But there was only ever going to be one winner once the trio got to the finish together, Sagan easily took his first win of the year. I suspected Nibali might be involved today with his impending arrival and it was easily his best performance and result of the season.
So it's all still to play for going in to the Queen stage up to Green Mountain, as was expected to be fair. Froome is still favourite at just 4/7 to win it outright, but he has to find 19" on Sagan and 9" on Uran to win. He is even money favourite in early prices for the stage with Bet365, and is a very likely winner, but the question is, can he win by enough time to take the overall? Personally I won't be taking the evens on him to win the stage, it's very short given how some of his opponents are starting to show flashes of form, and I have an overall bet on him that I am holding which is enough for me.
Froome may well gain that sort of time to take the overall victory, but I've been waiting all week to back Rodriguez for this. Winner last year, he has been targeting this stage again this year. Rodriguez said this last year after taking victory on Green Mountain - "I knew very well about this climbing because it's my third year in the Tour of Oman," Rodríguez said. "It's really demanding but I knew where to start my rush and this helped me a lot." Ok, he hasn't exactly been lighting things up this week, but he knew which fight he needs to pick and should be up for it tomorrow. He finished with the leading group today in 12th place, one behind Froome, but I can see them switching positions tomorrow. He was 5/1 with BetVictor early on and I took that, he was only 11/4 with Bet365.
Last year Rodriguez jumped away from him at the finish to win by 4", but more importantly the sorts of gaps to Evans (18"), Contador (23") and Nibali (31") are the kinds of time gaps that will win Froome the overall. *Edit* since writing this it was pointed out to me on twitter that if Rodriguez does win from Froome then he would move in to the overall lead as they are on the same time at the moment - the 10" time bonus would put Purito ahead. So I have had a small hedge bet on Purito for the overall at Ladbrokes at 8/1. Thanks @gonvillbromhead for the heads-up! I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a repeat of last years finish with Froome and Rodriguez ride away, but there may be a few who get a bit closer this year.
Uran showed some good form today as did Nibali of course, but Kreuziger, Gesink, Henao, Nieve and Moreno will all have a part to play in tomorrow's stage. Moreno will have to work for Rodriguez, unless Purito is not up for it and then the 25/1 on Moreno might look like a very nice price. Nieve will be working for Froome along with Henao and Lopez, but Gesink and Kreuziger could be two to give Froome a run for his money.
Whether they are involved at the finish though, if Rodriguez is there then there should only be one winner. None of the match bets really appeal to me, except maybe Moreno to beat Henao at 7/5, Henao might drop away after working for Froome earlier than Moreno has to, he might not have to work as hard.
What about Sagan? Can he hang in there and hold on to his overall lead? Well it's not impossible knowing Sagan, but I think it will be just too hard and fast for him at the business end tomorrow. He said he was really suffering and on his limit last time up the climb today so I think he will crack tomorrow and slip back.
3pts win on Joaquin Rodriguez at 5/1 with BetVictor
2pts win on Dani Moreno to beat Sergio Henao at 7/5 with Bet365
1pt win on Joaquin Rodriquez for the overall at 8/1 with Ladbrokes
Stage 6 - As Sifah to Matrah Corniche, 146.5km
Sunday 23rd February
So Froome did the business as expected on Green Mountain to take the leader's red jersey with only one sprint stage to go. Not only did he win the stage and blow away the opposition, he also set a new fastest time for the ascent of Green Mountain, beating the previous best time by over 30". He attacked with about 1.5km to go and no one could stay with him.
Tejay Van Garderen pulled off a very impressive performance to finish in 2nd just 22" back, riding himself in to 2nd overall on the GC, followed by Rigoberto Uran who followed up his 2nd on stage 5 with a fine 3rd today to seal 3rd overall on the GC also. Rodriguez was just outside the placings today in 4th just 5" behind Uran. Unfortunately for our Match Bet, Sergio Henao finished 15" ahead of Moreno and blew that one. We can comfort ourselves a little though from knowing Froome is home and hosed bar an accident or incident to land our overall bet.
The final stage should be one last shot for the sprinters but I'm finding it hard to really recommend any bet with confidence. André Greipel is odds on favourite and should win as long as Lotto-Belisol get the leadout right again, but I can't be backing him at 17/20. Nacer Bouhanni is 2nd favourite at 9/2 best price, but again I can't really fancy him at that price, he is as likely to win it as finish 5th or 6th.
Alexander Kristoff was very impressive when winning stage 2 with a smart sprint, he went a little too early, eased off, took a wheel and then went again and was too strong for the rest. At 8/1 he might represent a bit of value each-way to get in to the top 3, and if Greipel and Co. get it wrong he could land the win too. Further down the line, Leigh Howard was flying at the end on Stage 2 too, and wasn't happy with his positioning as he felt he could have won it. There's quite a bunch of riders like Boonen, Sagan, Bennett, Bennati, Swift, Markus and Ruffoni who can fill any one of the top 10 places, but maybe at 16/1 Howard can pull of another strong sprint and take a placing at worst.
Alexander Kristoff - 1pt e/w at 8/1 with Ladbrokes
Leigh Howards - 0.5pts e/w at 16/1 with Bet365
Video highlights of Stage 5
Overall Contenders and Favourites
This year's field is once again a top quality field of GC riders and sprinters. Like Qatar, we are getting a mixture of riders who have some racing under their tyres already and those who are making their season debuts. This means we have some form lines to go on, albeit if some of them were taken at a more leisurely pace than others!
On the other hand, there are plenty of riders, who all we have to go on are their word, team press releases and little snippets and rumours about how their winter training has gone for them.
As mentioned above, there is the very high likelihood that the entire GC will boil down to 5.7km of pain up Green Mountain. However, there could also be some time gaps on stage 3 and stage 4. In Stage 3 which finishes in Al Bustan, the climb of Al Jissah should cause some splits before the run in to the finish as it did last year when Froome picked up some time over his main rivals. Stage 4 sees the riders crest the climb of Bousher Alamrat four times in the last third of the race, but the finish is some 13kms from the summit once they crest it for the fourth time. So although it may break up on the climb, there is a good chance the main GC men will be back together at the finish.
Chris Froome is the favourite of course following his all-conquering 2013, which included victory at this race 12 months ago. The course is perfect for him once again with the climb up to Green Mountain likely to see him take the leaders jersey with only a sprint stage left to complete. He faces a strong lineup though this year and he has yet to race this year, so it's hard to know for sure how he will go, but he started last season very well and there is no reason to doubt he will do likewise this year.
Froome is pretty confident going in to the race too. He recently said “I wouldn’t say I have the same kind of pressure that I had last year for Oman. I’m a lot more relaxed coming into this season, but at the same time I feel just as eager and just as motivated to get stuck into the racing. I’m really looking forward to getting back into it.”. Others use phrases like 'preparation', looking for fitness' etc, he seems be protraying a lot more conviction about his preparation and ambition.
He should be right up there again on stage 3 too like last year, one of the first over the top of Al Jissah, he may find a few of the speedier, classics types like Sagan too quick again, but shouldn't lose any significant time. In fact he'll probably give himself a little cushion over some rivals like he did last year. Sky's team is not bad with Cataldo, Lopez, Nieve and Henao there to help him in the hills, but chances are that he will be the strongest of them anyway. He is best price 11/10 at BetVictor and that is worth a bet if you don't mind taking short odds, I can't see many beating him.
Vincenzo Nibali lines up this year too following a 7th place showing last year, but there is the big issue of his baby's impending arrival hanging over his participation! The baby is due on Feb 20th and if it does arrive in the next few days, expect Nibali to be on the next plane out of Oman.. Even if the baby hangs in there for a little longer I'm not sure Nibali would have troubled Froome or the top of the podium this year either. His two showings in the Tour de San Luis and Qatar were clearly less than impressive, more the training rides of a man with his eyes on later in the season.. 44th in San Luis with 14th in the TT, he improved slightly on GC in Qatar (17th), but only thanks to 18th in the TT, in itself not a brilliant performance. And if the baby arrives on the 21st, it will be blessed with sharing a birthday with me!
Joaquin Rodriguez finished just one place off the podium in 2013 and will be looking for a top 3 placing this year given the route. Stages 3 looks suited to an explosive attack on the last climb and a charge down to the finish, but he is likely to have victory on Green Mountain high up on his targets again this year. One of few who can stay with Froome when in full swing, he should be able to sprint away from him in the last kilometre like he did last year.
As his big target (the Giro) is earlier than Froome, Nibali and Van Garderen's he should be more fired up for it and he could be the one to give Froome the most trouble over stages 3,4 and 5. At 9/2 second favourite I think he is worth a bet if you want to take on Froome, he looks the most likely to steal his crown should Froome not be at 100%, so back him at 9/2 with Ladbrokes who are paying 1/4 the odds for the first 3 places.
Robert Gesink is also a past winner of both the stage up to Green Mountain and the overall in the Tour of Oman, dominating the race in 2011. A lot of time has passed since then but he is approaching the race with confidence following a good showing in the Tour Down Under last month. Gesink can climb with the best on his day and soloed to a comprehensive 47" victory on Green Mountain in 2011, although the field was nothing like the quality of this year's one. He will not be left such freedom this year though and I don't think he has the explosive kick to get away from the main GC contenders in this race. One to watch though with interest as he and his Belkin team may well look to stir things up - at 14/1 with Ladbrokes, he is worth a small each-way investment.
Tinkoff-Saxo have had a very quiet start to the year compared to the likes of Orica-Greenedge, OPQS and BMC but they come to the race with Roman Kreuziger looking to perform well. 3rd favourite in the betting at 10/1 best price, he has the support of Nicholas Roche, Bennati, Maoro, Breschel and Kroon. His early season results last year were pretty average up until he won Amstel Gold and I think 5th-10th is the best he can hope for.
Sergio Henao is high up the betting too at 18/1 but you would have to think something will happen to Froome in order for him to become team leader and win this race. He got better as the week went by in the Challenge2014 in Mallorca, finishing 92nd, 61st, then 10th so he should be going better than some at the Tour of Oman though. But at 18/1 he doesn't appeal to me at all.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck comes here on the back of a pretty average start to the season with anonymous placings in San Luis and a 16th place finish in the same group as Henao in the Trofea Serra de Tramuntana last week. JVDB will be looking for some form ahead of the bigger challenges later in the year but the reports coming out of his camp are that he has recovered well from his injury suffered in the Tour de France last June and has had a very solid winter and is in better shape than he's ever been at this time of the year. Well, it that's the case he is keeping it disguised pretty well so far and I am not prepared to gamble on his true well being this week, even at 33/1.
Others that come here with chances, depending on how well their winter training has gone are Tejay Van Garderen for BMC, Leopold Konig (who looks big at 75/1), Domenico Pozzovivo at 20/1 and Dani Moreno at 30/1. Thibot Pinot reported today he had 'angine blanche' on Twitter, which is basically like tonsilitis, so I'll be steering clear of him - in fact, you can bet against him in a match bet by backing Leopold Konig at 3/4 and that's a bet I'd recommend given the info. (Edit: Pinot woke with a 39º fever on Tuesday morning and didn't start the race, so the bet was voided unfortunately).
To me though it will come down to the Green Mountain again and it should be a battle between Froome and Rodriguez for the overall. The climbs on stage 4 on the way to the Ministry of Housing shouldn't trouble him and he should finish with the leading group. It may come down to who wins on Stage 5 and by how much and if it comes to that then I think Rodriguez at 9/2 appeals a little more than Froome. And the reason I am picking one over the other rather than saying back Rodriguez each-way is because once again the bookies (Bet365 and BetVictor) have put out win only markets on a 144 runner field, a shameful and pathetic offering. They would never get away with that sort of market making on horse racing. Roll on the bigger races when there is some liquidity on Betfair. So no big stakes really on the overall markets, and if I was to stick a pin in two outsiders to do well at bigger prices, I would go for Gesink at 12/1 or Konig at 75/1.
*Note - since I first wrote this, Ladbrokes came out with a proper each-way market with better prices on most riders so I recommend taking a look at their markets..
Recommendations - that bookmakers grow a spine and offer each-way betting on a 144 runner, wide open event!!
2.5pts win on Froome at 11/10 with BetVictor
1pt e/w on Joaquin Rodriguez at 9/2 with Ladbrokes
0.5pt win on Leopold Konig at 75/1 with BetVictor
Leopold Konig to beat Thibot Pinot at 3/4 in an outright match bet with Bet365 (bet voided as Pinot didn't start the race due to high fever)