Peter Velits successfully held off the challenge of Vincenzo Nibali to win the Tour of Oman, while Marcel Kittel claimed victory on the final stage in Muscat.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Velits finished second behind Nibali on the penultimate stage to hold a slender one second advantage over the Liquigas-Cannondale rider going into the final day’s racing.
But Nibali could only finish fourth on the stage’s first intermediate sprint, thereby missing out on the bonus seconds that would have given him overall victory.
“It’s a great day, one of the best in my career,” said Velits. “During the race there was only a moment of panic when Nibali seemed to have gotten second place behind [team-mate Tom] Boonen during the intermediate sprint.
“Luckily it was just a mistake in transcribing numbers from radio infos and the momentary fear quickly dissipated. The team controlled the race perfectly, easily taking me to the finish line. It’s my first win in a stage race, I am very happy. It’s a great beginning to the season, even though I’m aware the big races are still to come.”
Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Barracuda), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Barracuda) and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) were allowed to escape as the race entered Muscat for six laps of a seven kilometre finishing circuit.
But the trio were swept up early in the final lap with Team Sky driving the front of the peloton, before Project 1T4i moved to the front in aid of Kittel, who won his second stage of the race in a bunch sprint ahead of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda).
Team Sky, who have endured a frustrating week in the Middle East, were unable to lead-out Mark Cavendish and the world champion sat up in the sprint, rolling across the line in 14th place.
But Team Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven insists it’s only a matter of time before the squad is firing on all cylinders.
He said: “I think everybody is disappointed about the results. The guys did great work all day chasing the breakaway and everyone was near the front. Appo and then at the end Jeremy helped bring them back. They were three really strong riders so it was not easy to catch them.
“The final was pretty hectic. The guys lost each other through the turns which made it difficult. Cav was too far back to win the sprint so he sat up.
“We saw this week that the team are on a good level fitness-wise. Ian and Mathew are looking great ahead of the Classics. That’s no problem. The riders just have to get used to each other which takes time.”
Full results to follow.