Greg Van Avermaet continued to show strong early-season form by climbing to third place on stage three of the Tour of Oman, behind stage winner and new race leader Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team).
At 192.5 kilometers, the third stage was the longest of the race and the three categorized climbs and strong crosswinds made for a tough day of racing.
Ten riders broke clear in the opening kilometers and with no team assuming control of the race, the breakaway’s advantage quickly extended to more than six minutes.
By the time the peloton reached the feed zone, approaching the halfway point of the stage, the gap to the breakaway was still hovering around the six-minute mark but a headwind once the race changed direction and increased organization from the chasing teams saw the advantage start to come down.
With 50 kilometers to go, strong crosswinds caused splits in the peloton and a select 14-rider group, featuring Van Avermaet, Kamil Gradek, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, and Łukasz Wiśniowski, formed at the front as they approached the first ascent of the 2.8 kilometer Qurayyat climb, that would become the finish line the second time.
Up ahead, the breakaway started to fracture on the climb, which featured an average gradient of 6.5%, and behind, the second echelon closed in on Van Avermaet’s group.
The remaining breakaway riders were eventually pulled back inside the final ten kilometers, at which point CCC Team was pulling hard at the front of the bunch, and new echelons formed with Van Avermaet and the majority of his CCC Team teammates again on the right side of the split approaching the final climb.
Van Avermaet dug deep and showed his strength on the short but steep climb to cross the line in third place, one second behind Lutsenko, on the same time as Jesus Herrada (Cofidis, Solutions Credits) who finished just in front of Van Avermaet.
With three stages to go, Van Avermaet now sits in third place overall, 20 seconds behind Lutsenko.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“There was a crosswind section before the first time up the climb and the splits formed themselves. I almost missed it because I was a bit too far behind and I was not expecting it. I did a big effort to come back to the first group and then I was on my limit for thirty minutes. Afterwards, I could recover a bit to do the last climb. It was not the best positioning for me but it is probably one of the best trainings I can do so I’m pretty happy with how it went. The first time on the climb, everyone was struggling in Lutsenko’s wheel and then the last time, he was quite hard to beat.”
“Everyone is working on their shape. You cannot compare this parcours with what we will have in Flanders but it gives a bit of a bit of an indication [of how everyone is going] and I’m just super happy for myself as I have good form. I could not win today but I think with this finish, and you see how Lutsenko is riding at the moment, it’s a good third place. It is always a good effort of five minutes [on the final climb] and we always have high power output on these climbs but for me, the most important thing is that the team is riding really well together. In the echelons, we were there with four guys in the first group and I think this is an indication that everyone has good form.”
Valerio Piva, Sports Director:
“It was a very nice stage. We decided to wait for the final. Yesterday we worked and took responsibility and today, we wanted to put the pressure on other teams as the finish was not really an easy finish for Greg. Finally, when we arrived near the finish it was windy and there was an echelon and we had four riders in the first group. Then, we worked and tried to make a selection. The race was hard, but that is perfect for Greg when everybody is a bloc. We did a nice attack in the final eight to ten kilometers before the finish which made a selection again. We did everything possible but the finish was a little bit more for climbers and Lutsenko is flying. We have no regrets, I’m happy, especially with the work the team is doing. It’s nice also for Greg to be here at the top with the best.”
“Tomorrow’s stage is hard in the middle but then there are 40 kilometers flat to the finish so I am a little bit concerned that we will be fighting with the sprinters. We will try again. Of course, we came here to try to win a stage but also to have the Classics team work together and find out the best way to race together so a stage like today’s was perfect for this.”
Tour of Oman
Stage 3: Shati Al Qurum > Qurayyat (192.5km)
Top 3: 1. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team), 2. Jesus Herrada (Cofidis, Solutions Credit), 3. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team)
CCC Team top 3: 3. Greg Van Avermaet, 20. Łukasz Wiśniowski, 24. Michael Schär