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Emerging as the strongest from a four-rider breakaway, Brändle won the final stage of the Tour of Oman; Valls finished safely to win the first stage race of his career

Photo: IAM Cycling

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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IAM CYCLING

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ILJO KEISSE

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MATTHIAS BRÄNDLE

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RAFAEL VALLS

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TEJAY VAN GARDEREN

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TOUR OF OMAN

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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22.02.2015 @ 12:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Matthias Brändle (IAM) proved his skills as a breakaway king when he took a hugely surprising win in the final stage of the Tour of Oman, emerging as the strongest from a four-rider break. With a late attack, he managed to distance breakaway companions Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Jef van Meirhaeghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Danny Pate (Sky) while Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) survived a late attack from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to take the first stage victory of his career, with Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Valverde completing the podium.

 

Matthias Brändle may be mostly known as a former holder of the Hour Record but the Austrian is much more than a strong time triallist. In fact, he has developed himself into a breakaway specialist and history proves that he is very hard to catch when he hits the right move.

 

Last year he managed to win two consecutive stages in the Tour of Britain by going on the attack and so the alarm bells were ringing when he joined the right move in the final stage of the Tour of Oman. The Austrian teamed up with Iljo Keisse, Jef van Meirhaeghe and Danny Pate to form a very strong quartet of rouleurs.

 

Nonetheless, the sprint teams failed to organize a chase and for most of the stage, they allowed the Lampre-Merida team of race leader Rafael Valls to keep the gap stable at around 9 minutes. When the riders exited the feeding zone with 63km to go, it was still 8.55 and things were looking promising for the escapees.

 

Nacer Bouhanni’s Cofidis team was the first to finally commit themselves to the chase and later Katusha and Tinkoff-Saxo also added riders to the chase. Being on the back foot, they were forced to ride very fast over the two climbs inside the final 50km and what should have been an easy sprint stage suddenly turned out to be a tough affair that saw several riders, including points jersey holder Andrea Guardini (Astana), lose contact with the peloton.

 

The gap was coming down rapidly but it was too late for the sprinters. As they started the final 7km lap on the Matrah Corniche in Muscat, they were still 2.15 behind the leaders who could start the game for the stage win.

 

Brändle showed his tactical and physical abilities by launching a well-timed attack with a few kilometres to go and he quickly built a 6-second advantage over Keisse who was his nearest chaser. The Belgian never managed to regain contact and so Brändle took his third breakaway win in less than 6 months. Keisse and van Meirhaeghe completed the podium while Pate had to settle for fourth. 1.16 later, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was left wondering what might have been when he beat Ramon Sinkeldam (Giant-Alpecin) and Bouhanni in the sprint for fifth.

 

Race leader Rafael Valls had a mostly uneventful day but he got a late scare when Alejandro Valverde attacked on the final lap. However, that move was quickly neutralized and so he could celebrate the first overall stage race win of his career. Tejay van Garderen was second at 9 seconds while Valverde was third, 10 seconds further adrift.

 

Guardini failed to score any points in the final stage but he still managed to win the points competition. Van Meirhaeghe who was in the break in all five stages, won the sprints competition while Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) was the best young rider. BMC crowned an impressive showing by winning the teams competition.

 

With the Tour of Oman done and dusted, the riders will now leave the Middle East after almost a month on the Arabian peninsula. Most of them will return to Europe where the classics riders will be back in action in the Belgian opening weekend while the stage race specialists will mostly turn their attention to Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday’s big confusion and cancellation of stage 5, the riders were back in the saddles for the final stage of the Tour of Oman. It brought them over 133.5km from Oman Air to the traditional finish on the Matrah Corniche. After a flat start, the riders tackled two short, steep climbs inside the final 50km before they descended to the coast where they did two laps of the well-known circuit around the Corniche.

 

The temperature may not have been as extreme as it was yesterday but it was another very hot day in the saddle for the riders when they gathered for the start at the Oman Air. In final stages of stage races, it often takes a bit of time for the break to be established as it is the final opportunity for many teams to win a stage and the riders again got off to a fast start with lots of attacks.

 

A strong break

At the 8.5km mark, the break was finally established and it was no surprise to see van Meirhaeghe as part of the action, the Belgian having made the break in all five stages of the race. He was joined by Keisse, Brändle and Pate but they had to fight hard to get a bigger advantage.

 

Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) tried to bridge the gap and at the 12km mark, he was just 18 seconds behind while the peloton was at one minute. The bunch decided to slow down and while Lampre-Merida took control of the situation, Wallays lost ground. After 15km of racing, the Belgian was 1.30 behind and he was quickly swallowed up by the main group which was 3 minutes behind at the 22km mark.

 

Lampre-Merida set a modest pace

The gap continued to grow. It was 4.35 at the 30km mark and as Lampre-Merida had no interest in catching the escapees, it even reached 9 minutes after 61km of racing.

 

This prompted Movistar to come to the fore to help stabilize the situation and later Bora-Argon 18 also put a rider on the front. As they went through the feeding zone at the 70km mark, however, the gap was still 9.15.

 

Cofidis come to the fore

Intent on winning his first stage, Nacer Bouhanni asked his Cofidis teammates to organize a chase and this caused the gap to come down. They were now getting to the hilly zone and as the peloton was forced to ride full gas over the climbs, the bunch split up and several riders got dropped.

 

Van Meihaeghe continued to collect points by winning both the first KOM and first intermediate sprint. At the top of the final climb with 27km to go, the gap had come down to 5.20 and things were looking promising for the escapees.

 

Guardini is dropped

As they entered the final 20km to go, the gap was still 4.40 and as they crossed the finish line for the first time, the break still had 3.30 in hand. Meanwhile, Andrea Guardini (Astana) was one of several riders who had got dropped on one of the two climbs.

 

At the penultimate passage of the finish line, the gap was still 2.15 and it was now Tinkoff-Saxo and Katusha who were chasing hard. However, it was all too late and in the end, breakaway king Brändle took the win.

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