Tour of Oman 2019: Lutsenko on verge of glory
Defending champion Alexey Lutsenko of Astana took a firm grip on 2019 Tour of Oman as the Kazakh rider has all but secured his second consecutive overall victory by winning the queen stage on the slopes of Jebel Akhdar on Wednesday.
Lutsenko beat Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), who was in the early break of the day, by seven seconds on the barren mountaintop finish, with Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) third at 11 seconds.
Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) was fourth at 19 seconds.
As Lutsenko crossed the finish line he again pointed to the sky. After recovering from his huge effort, he thanked his Astana teammates via radio.
Thanks to his third stage win of the race, Lutsenko has tightened his grip on the leader’s red jersey with just one stage left to race, having already won two stages in this year’s edition.
He now leads Pozzovivo by 44 seconds, with Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) third overall at 47 seconds. Thursday’s 135.5km sixth and final stage is from Al Mouj Muscat to the Mattrah Corniche, where the riders cover three circuits before the expected final sprint finish.
The 152km stage to Jebel Akhdar is always about the climb to the finish line, which is fixed 5.7km up the twisting road to the mountain resort in the Oman desert, with an average gradient of ten per cent.
The overall contenders were again happy for a breakaway to go clear, with Julien Duval (AG2R La Mondiale), Romain Cardis and Fabien Grellier
(Direct Energie), Stijn Steels (Roompot-Charles), Julien Mortier (Wallonie Bruxelles) and Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) accepting the challenge.
Their gap quickly reached three minutes after 20km, five minutes after 40km and then six at the halfway point. It was only then that the Astana team began to drive the chase in the hope of setting up Lutsenko and defending his race lead.
Van Rooy swept up the two intermediate sprints and with six riders in the break, they shared the work and made it hard for Astana and the peloton. Their lead was still at 4:10 with 20km.
The climb is officially only 5.7km long but the gradient kicks up before that, with a steep ramp at a check-point. After an easier section, the road snakes up the side of the mountain, with the gradient at double figures.
It was here that the breakaway lost much of its lead, as they tried to hold off the charge of Lutsenko and the best climbers behind.
Greillier was the last to be caught on the final sweeping curve that leads up to the finish line. Lutsenko had the power and speed and to distance Pozzovivo, catch and distance the
Frenchman and then hit the finish line alone, giving Astana its ninth win of the season in just the last ten days.
Fifth stage results [top five]: 1 Lutsenko (03hr:44m:03s), 2 Grellier (+:07s), 3 Pozzovivo (+:11s), 4 Costa (+:19s), 5 Elie Gesbert (Arkea Samsic).
Overall standings: 1 Lutsenko (18hr38m:39s), 2 Pozzovivo (+44s), 3 Herrada (+:47s), 4 Costa (+:53s), 5 Gesbert (+:01:03s).