Muscat – Jan Hirt of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux team displayed impressive climbing legs on Monday to tame the infamous ascent of Jabal Akhdhar. The Czech rider enjoyed a strong support from his teammates, especially Rein Taaramäe, and went solo inside the last 2km.
Not only does Hirt took the stage win ahead of Kevin Vauquelin and Elie Gesbert (Arkea-Samsic), he also cracked Fausto Masnada (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) on slopes of more than 10 per cent to take the red leader’s jersey at the end of an eventful stage that saw the battle open up early in the wind.
The 31-year-old shook off his rivals in the final two kilometres of the 150.5km ride from Samail which ended with a 5.7km climb up to the summit finish on Jebel Akhdar.
Hirt outpaced French riders Kevin Vanquelin and Eli Gesbert, both of the Arkea-Samsic team, who finished 40 seconds adrift after the gruelling climb with 10.5 per cent gradient.
The Intermarche rider claimed his first success since the 2016 Tour of Austria, and overtakes overnight race leader Italian Fausto Masnada, who finished nearly two minutes adrift in 11th position.
The massive challenges of the day attracted the attackers as a 92-man peloton rolled from the Al Feyhaa Resthouse in Samail without Marco Canola (Gazprom-RusVelo).
Six riders manage to open a gap at km 4: Luca Rastelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane’), Laurenz Rex (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Antonio Angulo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Andrea Peron (Team Novo Nordisk) and Nicolas Vinokurov (Astana Qazaqstan Development Team).
Abdulrahman Al Yaqoobi (Oman National Selection) tried to join them but he was caught by the peloton after 20km of battle, when the gap hit a maximum of 3’.
Intermarché quickly got to the front of the bunch to bring the gap down to two minutes and control the day. They made it clear ahead of the stage they wanted to take victory up Green Mountain with Jan Hirt, 3rd overall.
Team DSM split the bunch through the wind
The situation seemed to be under control until a change of direction exposed the riders to crosswinds inside the last 70km. Team DSM, in line with their aggressive racing since the beginning of the Tour of Oman, put the hammer down and quickly tear the bunch to pieces.
The race leader Fausto Masnada was at the front, but the white jersey Anthon Charmig (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) was caught behind after suffering a crash earlier in the race.
The early attackers were caught with 52km to go. Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) was caught in a crash with Ignatas Konovalovas (Groupama-FDJ) but they both got back on their bikes.
Intermarché dominate the final climb
The second group, with Charmig and Cavendish, got back to the front bunch with 41km to go. Calm returned as Masnada’s Worlfpack drove the bunch to the bottom of the iconic ascent of Jabal Akhdhar: 5.7km with an average gradient of 10.5 per cent.
Intermarché set the pace at the bottom of the climb and Rein Taaramäe quickly reduced the front group to a handful of riders. Hirt put the hammer down with 2km to go.
Arkea-Samsic’s power duo, Elie Gesbert and Kevin Vauquelin, tried to follow but they were quickly dropped as the Czech flew to victory, while Masnada faltered, eventually finishing 11th of the stage (+1’48’’).
Tuesday’s sixth and final stage covering 135.5km should favour the sprinters, with the finale at Muttrah Corniche.