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Next up guys , is the Tour of Oman and before it the Muscat Classic, for Fausto.
Quickstep have a strong team with Fausto, Hirt and Vansevenont. They will be trying for the GC with those riders (1st and 2nd overall last year), and Mauri particularly should be good for Muscat classic, there is a 1km climb at 9.5% just 6km from the finish.
They are also bringing Merlier with Cerny and Van Lerberge , I don't really understand this because only stage 1 looks like it will be a sprint. The race is very hilly. But maybe its training for the classics .
Those early season schedules are finalized before the season starts, but like a lot of races Oman didn't announce their route till the 2nd half of Januari. Algarve already has Jakobsen and Andalucia is also not for sprinters at all. Oman usually had sprint stages so it was an obvious choice. They maybe could've gone to Saudi instead but I think Merliers baby was born that week so that wouldn't have worked either. I wouldn't be surprised if they start Saudi or Besseges instead of Oman next year tho.
That being said, they definitely have a very strong team for the GC there, probably the strongest together with Movistar. Mauri should indeed be the leader for Muscat and the other 2 for Oman.
Merlier is also listed for UAE Tour right now, so it might simply be a training ride for him in Oman. Maybe he doesnt finish it.