MUSCAT 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.
"It's been an incredibly successful week for us this week. The team has rallied around me all the way and having guys of the caliber of Bradley Wiggins helping you to win a race makes it a hell of a lot easier to be up there when the going gets tough," Froome told reporters.
"The guys have done a sterling job this week and been around me when it's counted. Luckily I've been able to come up with the goods and finish it off at the end of the stages.
"This is still very early days at the moment and early on in the season. This was a preparation event and a good test to see how the winter training has gone so far. I'm quite confident that I'm on track at the moment and right where I need to be with my preparations in view of being ready at 100 per cent for the Tour de France."
Team Sky principal David Brailsford added: "It's good to get the win, especially when you look at the quality of the field here. We're happy that the team's been able to get off to a strong start again this year and this result allows us to build momentum.
"It's an important result too for Chris as he's been able to get his first major stage race victory - that will boost his confidence. He didn't put a foot wrong all week so it's been a good start to the year from him."
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.
(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)