(Road Bike Action & AFP)
Spain’s Rafael Valls won Thursday’s tough Tour of Oman fourth stage with a summit finish on the Green Mountain to take the overall lead. American Tejay Van Garderen, 5sec adrift, and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (19sec) completed the podium. Valls took the leader’s red jersey from Fabian Cancellara with Van Garderen placed second, 19sec behind, with two stages remaining.
“I am the first one to be surprised,” said Valls. “I didn’t expect to win at all, especially with the riders left in the final group, and I thought it was practically impossible for me to win. Van Garderen is one of the riders who can finish in the top five in the Tour de France and to beat him is incredible,” added the jubilant Valls, who picked up only his second career stage win and first since the Tour of San Luis five years ago.
“I had four difficult years, with a lot of accidents but I never lost hope. I worked hard during the winter and arrived in better condition than ever,” added the 27-year-old. Van Garderen, who finished second overall last year behind Britain’s Chris Froome and second on the same stage in 2014, held on to the wheel of Valls until the final bend before fading into the runners-up spot.
Polish rider Rafal Majka, the best climber on last year’s Tour de France, came home fourth on the day at 22sec with Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, third place finisher on the 2014 Tour, completing the top five at 35sec. A final group of Valls, Van Garderen, Valverde, Majka, Pinot, Rui Costa and Roman Kreuziger attacked the brutal 5.7km climb grouped together before the Spaniard eventually left his rivals for dead with a relentless burst from the front. Tour de France champion Vincent Nibali had a difficult day and lost 2min 27sec while Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez lost 5min 25sec on the day.
“There were some riders who were better prepared for today’s stage,” said Nibali. “I am not yet in top condition and Oman is not a priority race for me.”
Saturday’s stage features a 151.5km ride between Al Sawadi Beach and the Ministry of Housing over a rolling route that could once again shake up the overall rankings. The race finishes on Sunday with a 133.5km run from Oman Air to Muttrah Promenade.