To the sound of local bagpipes and in warm Middle Eastern sunshine, Mark Cavendish’s season got underway on Friday morning at the new Muscat Classic one-day race in Oman.
Watched by a few dozen local fans, riders signed on at a paved pedestrian crossroads in a new building development, with the ceremony limited to a simple sign-on board ringed by race officials, prior to the rollout at 11am.
As is usually the case at races outside of Europe, the regular team buses were notable by their absence, with riders instead coming to the start in coaches provided by the organisation, before gathering for team briefings and preparing for the race on plastic seats in the shade of the awnings of a local carpark.
Like all the other riders from the 17 squads present for the Muscat Classic, given the lack of a race speaker, Cavendish signed on with no introduction. He paused briefly for some photos with some autograph hunters prior to heading back to the team cars.
And then, to the strain of local musicians playing in the background, they were off.
The Muscat Classic was never likely to end in a full bunch sprint given the short, tough climb, which riders have used previously in the Tour of Oman, prior to the drop to the finish four kilometres later. And so it proved, with Jenthe Biermans (Arkéa-Samsic) winning from a reduced peloton of 40 or so riders.
Cavendish had already climbed off by that stage, perhaps with an eye to Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour of Oman proper, which is likely to be the only finale in the event that lends itself to a bunch sprint.
In any case, racing in Oman will allow Cavendish and his squad to fine-tune the mechanics of working together without the pressure that a WorldTour event like the UAE Tour – his next race – will bring, as Bora-Hansgrohe head sports director Rolf Aldag told Cyclingnews before the start.
“If he’s doing the UAE Tour, there’ll be a lot of pressure, it’s kind of the World Championships for sprinters, even if Scheldeprijs claims that and Paris-Tours as well,” said Aldag, who worked closely with Cavendish in multiple teams in the past.
“There are going to be lots of opportunities there, so you don’t want to be racing for the first time with the staff and the boys there, and that’s why it’s clever to come here.
“It’s pretty straightforward here, it’s never easy, but it’s always going to be about racing here without all the extra show outside. So that’s probably a good thing.”
Aldag also suggested that…
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