Even in the blindingly bright sunlight of the Tour of Oman, it was difficult to miss seeing Ukrainian national champion Andrii Ponomar.
The yellow and blue jersey of his country’s colours stand out strongly against the ochres and oranges of Oman’s stony mountain ranges and even at 20, the former junior European champion spent much of the race in a prominent place at the front of the bunch, working hard for his new Arkéa-Samsic squad.
Given the ongoing war in Ukraine and the anniversary of the Russian invasion, nobody could blame Ponomar if he was struggling to focus on something as trivial as a bike race. His father is currently fighting against the Russians, his hometown of Tcherniv was 70% destroyed in the earliest days of the invasion, and his mother and sister spent 11 days in an underground bunker before escaping to Italy.
It almost goes without saying that cycling in Ukraine has been hugely affected, with the National Championships cancelled, and the very fact Ponomar is still wearing the yellow and blue colours of the current champion is a physical reminder of that.
At the end of this week, Ponomar’s jersey will be on view again at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and, possibly, Kuurne-Brussels–Kuurrne. But as he sees it, racing in the Ukraine colours goes way beyond any usual obligations or motivations.
“I need to race strong and win so that people can see this jersey,” the 20-year-old told Cyclingnews before the last stage of the Tour of Oman. “We have a war in Ukraine so we couldn’t do the Nationals last year, so this year I’m very pleased to be able to show the colours of this jersey in all the races I do.”
In Oman, Ponomar’s best chance of winning was arguably on stage 4, a lengthy 200km grind through rugged mountain foothills where the early breakaway attempts came thick and fast with a race speed of well over 42kph. As race leader Matteo Jorgensen put it later, “everybody was coming after us at that point.”
“I tried to get in one of the breaks early on in the first two hours, but sadly it didn’t happen,” Ponomar said, “but still I did some hard work for the team on the rest of the day, even on the climbs. After that, I just got to the finish as best I could.”
He has certainly turned in an impressive track record in stage races to date. In 2021, aged 18, he became the youngest rider to complete a Giro d’Italia since 1929. And in 2022, riding for the Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli squad, he once again raced the Giro d’Italia from start to…
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