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Positions at the top change again after the end of Stage 5
Thursday, 18 February 2010

Tom Boonen made the best of a bunch sprint to capture his first success on the Tour of Oman. After an early breakaway including three men, the pack made it together by the Sultan Qaboos Stadium where Boonen outsprinted his rivals. The Belgian beat Haedo and Van Staeyen to the line. The overall leader’s red jersey remains on the shoulders of Daniele Bennati. The Minister for Sports Affairs was the Guest of Honour for the prize giving and presented the winning Jerseys at Sultan Qaboos Stadium.

Stage 5: Wattayah – Sultan Qaboos Stadium, 148 kilometres
125 riders at the start; 16 teams
Perfect weather

Beautiful sunshine and a slight wind welcomed the riders at Wattayah for the start of stage 5. Within seconds the pack was riding at full speed through Qurum and onto the Beach Road before passing the new Royal Opera House and onto 18th November Street. The pack took off at a fairly fast pace along the sea (47.3 kms covered during the first hour) and several riders, including Philippe Gilbert, tried their luck in the lead. But every single breakaway attempt was chased and caught by a hungry pack.

The route took the riders on a 148km speed run on fairly flat terrain out of Muscat past The Wave, Muscat and onto Al Hail, As Seeb and Barka before returning to Muscat past Al Naseem Park, Sultan Qaboos University and through Gala. Yet again, the riders were met by cheering crowds of local well-wishers along the full route including hundreds of school children waving flags and balloons as well as a full troupe of dancers and drummers waiting at the entrance to the Wilyat of Barka.

Amongst all the festivities three men managed a decisive break around the 20 kilometre mark: Eskov (KAT), Ballan (BMC) and Pronk (VAC). Indeed the gap grew from 1’15 at km 22 to a maximum 5’ at the 50 km mark. 2008 World champion, Alessandro Ballan, made it first to the intermediate sprint line (km 61) ahead of Eskov and Pronk, as the leading three could still enjoy a 4’30 lead over the pack. As the Liquigas team of red jersey Daniele Bennati picked up the pace at the front of the bunch, the gap dropped down: 4’ at km 77 and 3’30 at the second bonus sprint (km 93.5) claimed by Ballan again, in front of Pronk and Eskov.

With 25 kilometres to go, the front men’s advantage was of only a minute. After a 113 km break, the three escapees were finally caught by the pack. It was time for the Quick Step, Liquigas, Saxo Bank and Sky teams to move up to the front to prepare for an expected bunch sprint. On the final straight, Boonen (QST) made the best of his blue Quick Step train to beat Haedo (SAX) and Van Staeyen (TSV). The red jersey remains on the shoulders of Daniele Bennati. The Italian now has a slim 2” overall lead on Boonen and 6” on Farrar. Tyler Farrar (GRM) keeps his green points jersey. Gatis Smukulis (ALM) remains the leader of the best young rider and most aggressive rider standings.

The Minister of Sports Affairs His Excellency Eng. Ali bin Masoud al-Sinaidi presented the jerseys to the winning cyclists amongst more dancing and drumming from local folk lore bands. "These world class initiatives from both government and non-government bodies are a testament to the importance of sport and motivating the youth of our country. We started with the Olympic Torch, followed by the GCC Gulf Cup, last week Oman Sail held the Extreme Sailing Series and now we are hosting international cycling with the Tour of Oman. I am very grateful to Muscat Municipality for organising the Tour as well as the Ministry of Tourism, Royal Oman Police and the private companies who have stepped up to support this event in such a professional manner.”

Also at the finish line to cheer on the cyclists as they fought for the stage win was Oman Football Coach Claude Le Roy who was equally ecstatic at how the Tour of Oman is helping to shape the sporting arena in the Sultanate "This event is of the highest calibre and it is fantastic to see the best of the world's professional cyclists competing here; this is not a second rate competition with 'B' rated teams ! I do not believe there is a better way for the world to discover the beauty of Oman. I am a footballer by profession, but cycling is also a love of mine and it is incredible to see one of the world's most amazing cyclists of all times and one of the key organisers of the Tour of Oman, Mr. Eddie Merckx, just a few metres away from me. Congratulations to Muscat Municipality for the vision to run such an excellent event."

Tomorrow is the finale from 2pm, with individual sprints from Barr Al Jissah departing every minute. The closing ceremony scheduled at 4pm will be held at the Piazza near the Fish Market on Al Bahari Road in Mutrah. Motorists should note that roads on to the Al Bahri area will be closed soon after Friday Prayers.

Be there to witness who amongst these energetic cyclists will wear the Tour of Oman red jersey

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