The season for Jan Hirt and Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux team could not have started much better. On the Queen stage of Tour of Oman, Intermarché’s riders set the tempo on the mighty Jabal Al Akhdhar (Green Mountain), one of the hardest climbs used in races in the Middle East, springing their leader Jan Hirt to victory. The Czech rider’s performance was so dominant that Fausto Masnada, who started the stage with what seemed to be an insurmountable lead of 58 seconds, lost the leader’s jersey.
Stage 5 was the third consecutive day in Tour of Oman where the parcours was made for climbers. Everything would be decided on the ridiculously hard Green Mountain of 6 km at 10.0%, although fortunately for the riders the temperature was a tolerable 17 degrees on the climb.
The Green Mountain is often used in the Tour of Oman, and typically decides the general classification. The holder of the record time is Rafael Valls, who, when riding for Lampre-Merida in 2015, climbed the 5.7 km and 10.42% steep section that is used in calculations in 18:28, doing 6.65 w/kg.
In 2014 Chris Froome won the Queen stage with an impressive time of 18:33 doing 6.63 w/kg – a level we were unlikely to see in this year’s Tour of Oman with its thinned startlist.
In stage 4, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl had dominated with Masnada and Schmid putting pressure on the other GC contenders whilst Hirt’s teammate Taaramäe struggled. With the headwind on the final climb, it would take a massive effort to overhaul the 55 second lead the Italian had obtained over his closest rival Dane Anthon Charmig following his solo escape and stage win the previous day.
In the breakaway of stage 5 went six riders, including 19-year-old Nicolas Vinokurov, the son of legendary Alexandre Vinokurov, who is riding for Astana Qazaqstan Development Team.
In the middle of stage 5 some echelons began to form due to crosswinds. DSM used the wind to split the peloton with 70 kilometres to go, with both Vandenabeele and Vermaeke looking strong the previous stage albeit with questionable tactics. One of the favourites for the stage Anthon Charmig, was not in the first part group (he suffered the same problems in Saudi Tour), but luckily for the Dane and Uno-X, after 24 kilometres the split was undone and the groups came back together. The breakaway was caught early due to the increased pace of the echelons whilst points classification leader Mark Cavendish and Lithuanian Champion Ignatas Konovalovas crashed, luckily both being able to finish the stage.
After that Quick-Step controlled the situation in the peloton until the base of Green Mountain, where Intermarché activated their mountain train.
One of the strongest climbers in the Tour of Oman, Rein Taaramäe said in an interview before the stage that his teammate Jan Hirt is the best climber in the race and the frank speaking Estonian was not wrong. Hirt had already showed his great form in stage 3 where he attacked twice, but in the end lost to Anthon Charmig and Elie Gesbert, on a finish which did not really suit him.
Taaramäe did a great job, reducing the peloton drastically up the slopes of the Green Mountain, helping to launch Hirt’s attack. There was no live coverage of the pivotal moments of the final climb, so there is some guesswork involved in knowing exactly when Masnada dropped and when Hirt skipped away. We do know from the Pauline Ballet photos below (the best race photographer in the world), that Hirt initially attacked with the very impressive Vauquelin of Arkea-Samsic on his wheel.
However eventually Vauqelin was distanced, with Hirt opening up a huge gap on both Masnada and Gesbert. No one could challenge the Czech climber, who produced 6.35 w/kg for 19:39, a very high level performance considering the startlist here and the difficult day yesterday.
It was especially hard for attackers due to the headwind on the climb, so Hirt is already looking in fine form after his Colombian altitude camp and a strong finish to 2021. Hirt took not only the stage, but put 1:48 into Fausto Masnada, who appeared to completely collapse – a near two minute gain on a 20 minute climb is a huge margin.
The closest rival for the stage, 20 year old Kevin Vauquelin, rode the climb in an interesting way considering his teammate Elie Gesbert was just behind him on the climb but higher on the general classification. One would expect Vauqelin to wait and work for his Arkea-Samsic teammate but at the end of the climb Vauquelin dropped Gesbert and finished a little bit faster, showing off great legs again, which he had on stages 3 and 4 – particularly on stage 3 where he did a monster pull on the 3 kilometre long Qurayyat climb.
Perhaps we are already seeing Arkea-Samsic adopting an optimal UCI points scoring strategy, by having two riders try and achieve their best GC position possible, rather than one sacrificing everything for the other to move up a single place. As it stands, they now have two riders in the top 6 of GC, with the podium possible for Gesbert who is just behind a struggling Rui Costa.
Below you can see how Hirt’s performance compares to previous Green Mountain attempts, and it sits pretty well with some rarified company. On the other hand, it was not a good day for Masnada and Quick-Step, who not only lost the leader’s jersey, but performed well below expectations on the final climb. Masnada in the end of the climb, whilst drafting behind his young team-mate Mauro Schmid, did 5.75 w/kg for 21:27.
Perhaps it was due to the hard effort the previous day when Masnada won the stage, or perhaps he is not in the shape of the Italian classics last year, but Masnada showed on Passo di Ganda in Lombardia that he is capable of over 6w/kg for 20 minutes even after a hard day’s racing when in top shape.
Tomorrow the Tour of Oman will end with a stage that might end with a sprint between sprinters if teams ride passively. Intermarché and Hirt looked strong today and they will definitely try their best to secure the victory and importantly the 200 UCI points that the winner of the GC receives. Perhaps Arkea-Samsic will be the team to try something, given Gesbert and Vauqelin looking relatively stronger than Costa and Charmig in the last couple of days.