Chris Froome (Team Sky) assumed the overall lead of the Tour of Oman after finishing second behind Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the race’s Queen Stage.
The Team Sky leader started the day 13th overall after losing time on stage three but distanced his closest rivals, Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Tinkoff) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), on the climb of Green Mountain to move into the red leader’s jersey.
Froome, who is vying for his first overall stage race victory, now leads the general classification by 24 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), with Contador 25 seconds adrift in third.
And, with many of the season’s Grand Tour contenders going head-to-head for the first time this year, Team Sky directeur sportif believes Froome has struck the first blow ahead of the 2013 Tour de France.
“We are really really happy with today,” said Portal, “especially to be in a position like this in the first big race of the season for this group. All the big GC contenders are here – it’s like a mini Tour de France. It’s really good for the morale for the team too. Going into big races in the next few months the guys will always remember this.
“Everyone contributed and did an amazing job. Christian Knees was on the front for almost the whole stage with a couple of Saxobank riders and an Astana rider. They controlled the five-man breakaway which was impressive. Vasil Kiryienka, Pete Kennaugh and Brad Wiggins were there at the start of the climb to make sure Chris was in a good position. That was important as it was a really wide road so the pace needed to be kept high. The climbs here aren’t like in Europe.”
Back-to-back stage wins gave Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) a 16-second cushion at the top of the overall standings going into stage four but, with the 5.5km climb of Green Mountain to finish, the Slovak was always unlikely to defend that lead.
Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Gregory Rast (Radioshack-Leopard), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Andreas Schillinger (NetApp-Endura) and Matthias Freidemann (Champion System) joined forces and formed the day’s breakaway, escaping early on the 143.5km stage from Al Saltiyah in Samail to Jabal Al Akhdhar and opening up a four-and-a-half minute advantage.
However, the group’s deficit was reduced to a little over a minute at the foot of the climb and with a host of Grand Tour contenders vying for top honours, that slender lead soon disappeared.
Contador was first to attack and took Nibali with him but Froome, Evans, Rodriguez and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) bridged the gap.
And that left Rodriguez to make a dig of his own on the steep upper slopes of the climb, which rises to 1,235m, and the Spaniard went the distance although, having lost nearly a minute-and-a-half over the course of the first three days, it was Froome who moved into the overall lead with two stages remaining.
“Tomorrow is the last tricky day for us,” added Portal. “Chris has shown everybody he is one of the strongest guys here. Tomorrow there is more climbing and we will look to defend the jersey and control the race.”
Tour of Oman 2013 – stage four – result
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +4″
3) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +22″
4) Alberto Contador (SPA) – SaxoBank-Tinkoff +27″
5) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Cannondale +36″
6) Kenny Elissonde (FRA) – FDJ +43″
7) Johann Tschopp (SWI) – BMC Racing +52″
8) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +57″
9) Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) – FDJ +1’01”
10) Yannick Eijssen (BEL) – BMC Racing +1’09”
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +24″
3) Alberto Contador (SPA) – SaxoBank-Tinkoff +25″
4) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +34″
5) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +45″
6) Kenny Elissonde (FRA) – FDJ +49″
7) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +58″
8) Johan Tschopp (SWI) – IAM Cycling +58″
9) Maxime Bouet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +1’15”
10) Arnold Jeannesson (FRA) – FDJ +1’23”