By Gilles Le Roc’h
MUSCAT, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Britain’s Chris Froome laid down an early marker for the season as he beat all the major Tour de France contenders to win the Tour of Oman in style on Saturday.
Team Sky’s Froome, second overall in last year’s Tour behind team mate and compatriot Bradley Wiggins, won the fifth stage ahead of double Tour champion Alberto Contador, who took second place overall.
Saturday’s sixth and final stage was won by French champion Nacer Bouhanni as Froome secured his first major stage race victory.
“At the beginning of the week I was thinking top five was a decent objective,” Froome told reporters.
“It’s important that I win my first stage race, it’s a good start to the season. And I win ahead of those who will be my rivals on the Tour.”
Australian Cadel Evans took third place overall ahead of Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, winner of stage four.
“Third isn’t bad,” Evans was quoted as saying in a team statement.
“It was a nice race with a good level of riders. It’s hard to say something about my condition for the Tour de France, but I can say that after my first race I am feeling good and my condition is good.”
Froome’s win was reminiscent of Wiggins’s Paris-Nice victory in 2012, when the 32-year-old rider also claimed the Tour de Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour.
The Kenya-born Froome went toe-to-toe with Contador, Rodriguez, Cadel Evans and Italian Vincenzo Nibali on the climbs as he snatched the leader’s red jersey after stage four.
Wiggins, who started his season in Oman in a supporting role, was never in contention.