Tour of Oman
Coming home from the Tour of Oman with the White Jersey on behalf of the team (for the best young rider) and 7th overall in the General Classification really does feel awesome! Here’s a few words describing the tour, the queen stage in more detail, and the consequences of performing well against such a strong field.
My performance on stage 4 on the queen stage probably exceeded by own expectations. The team had set the aspirational objective of a top 10 on GC for the tour, and thought I was the best chance of achieving this thanks to a 7km climb averaging over 10%. I felt really good all day on that stage, and was really focused on my nutrition strategy throughout the day. It was hot and with 180km’s to ride I knew this would be critical to make sure I could go my best when it mattered on the stage. I was aiming for 1 unit of food per 30 minutes, such as an energy bar or gel, and two bidons every hour. Apologies to my teammates, I think I had to stop about 4 or 5 times for a nature break during this day, but I guess this was a good sign!
The km’s leading into such a critical climb like this are almost just as important as the climb itself. Every team wants to do their best to get their climber in good position for the start of the climb, so the lead in can be rather hectic, dangerous and a nervous period of time. It looks a lot more relaxed on the TV! This is one of many moments when teammates are extremely valuable. My Drapac teammates did an awesome job dropping me off on Vincenzo Nibali’s wheel just as the road turned up into a 15% section for 700 metres, and that’s where I tried to stay for the rest of the climb. Once you hit the climb, lots of people not concerned about GC pull the rip cord straight away, and if you’re caught behind these guys, it costs lots of energy to move around them.
I finished 8th on this stage, 45 seconds behind the winner – Nibali. But there was a period during the climb when there were only five of us off the front – Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Romain Bardet (AG2R), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Merhawi Kudos (Dimension Data), and Brebdan Candy – and we had done a large part of the climbing with only 2km remaining! At one point, the leaders took a wide line around one of the hairpins, so I decided to go on the apex and accelerate away. For this very brief moment I was on the very front of the race. Not only was I still there, but I was considering trying to ride away from these guys, instead of hanging on for dear life. Although a minute later I was hanging on to dear life as Bardet attacked, and I got shelled. I managed to get on Dumoulin’s wheel, and he was closing the distance back to the leaders. But then Bardet attack again. Dumoulin kicked it up one more gear, and I could no longer hold that wheel. I was basically solo till the finish, with Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) the only others coming past.
If anybody was interested, I basically collapsed on the ground at the finish and had a gag reflex for a while before throwing up what appeared to be a little bit of previously consumed energy gel. But in as much pain as I was in at that very point in time, I knew I had done a really good ride and was extremely satisfied! Very shortly afterwards I had some reporters coming up for interviews. Most of them where asking who I was, where I come from, and what I thought of my performance. I had to just tell them that I’m relatively new to the sport, and as a first year professional it’s not surprising that they didn’t know who I was, and that it was hard to know what my expectations should be. One person who didn’t ask such questions was Matt Keenan, who came up to me with a huge smile on his face and said simply said, “You’re the only non world tour rider in the top 10. Congratulations, soak it in!”
— Matt Keenan (@mwkeenan) February 21, 2016
I think it will be soaking in for some time! Back at the buffet, Richie Porte went out of his way to say congratulations and spoke some very nice words about my efforts whilst wishing me luck for the rest of the tour. I had a little chat with Nibali and Edvald Boasson Hagen at the presentations area, and other riders such as Dan Martin passed on acknowledgement. I didn’t win the stage. I didn’t even finish second or third, and to these guys finishing 7th on GC at this race probably isn’t a massive deal, but they took notice of what I had done, and that was pretty special.
The job wasn’t done however, and I actually think that claiming the White jersey and a top 10 position on GC almost made me more nervous about trying to consolidate this position for the remaining two stages. Getting through stage 5 was a huge relief as it was probably the biggest chance of losing my position, whilst stage 6 still provided danger with a couple of climbs and the potential for splits and time gaps in the finish. But fortunately things stayed status quo in the end …Well actually 2nd and 3rd place in the young riders classification did get caught out in a split at the end of stage 6 and lost 15 seconds… Which goes to show just how possible it would be to lose the jersey in the final 500 metres of the final stage. (I was only leading by 10 seconds)!
But the job is now done, and the team can celebrate a really good result!! We ticked all the right boxes here in Oman, and the team moral was really great all week. I can’t thank my teammates and support staff enough who all contributed towards this effort.
My next race will be the Oceania’s in Bendigo, but before this my brother is getting married this weekend! It’s definitely exciting times at the moment…
Thanks for reading,