Whilst the Paris-Nice ‘Race to the Sun’ is going on over in France, we now have the ‘Race of Two Seas’ starting in Italy: from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic. The younger of the two European spring stage races, Tirreno-Adriatico began back in 1966, when it was just three stages long. In 2002 it was then increased to seven stages, and it’s from then onwards that it truly started to compete with its older sister. The fact that they are run by two different owners (Tour de France organizers ASO for P-N, and RCS for T-A) also adds to the healthy rivalry between the two tours, with each wanting to put on the best cycling week in springtime Europe. Now the stars of the peloton are pretty much split between the two races — perhaps it was indecision alone which has meant that last year’s winner Nairo Quintana, along with Tour de France winner Chris Froome, aren’t signing up for either race. A shame, but there’s plenty more to be talked about.
In recent years the race has regularly used the Apennine mountain range, and, given the time of year, these often promote extreme weather conditions (see Quintana’s incredible win in a blizzard last year). As a result, many riders targeting the Giro d’Italia use this race as a warm up (albeit not a very warm one). Vincenzo Nibali won here on his way to the 2013 Giro, and Alberto Contador and Quintana have both placed highly in the general classification in the same years that they have gone on to wear the Maglia Rosa. Cadel Evans also won this race the same year that he won the Tour de France. It’s also used as the final oppoutity to test the form for those aiming for the Milan-Sanremo classic, which comes just four days after the tour.
With two time trial stages, the stage 1 team time trial and the stage 7 individual effort, as well as a mix of summit finishes (stage 5), more sprint-friendly affairs (stage 2, 4 and 6), and a lumpy puncheur-friendly stage (stage 3), there’s plenty of racing to be enjoyed this Tirreno-Adriatico. Arguably, this might just give the race the edge over Paris-Nice this week, as we think it has done in recent years.
The main G.C. men to watch this year are: Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Joachím Rodríguez, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rigoberto Uran, Tejay Van Garderen, Esteban Chaves, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Last year’s opening stage was disrupted by major storm damage before the start, with fallen trees on the route of the team time trial in the Lido di Camaiore, and it was thus replaced with a simpler individual time trial. This year looks to be plain sailing, so we’re set to see a battle of the powerful teams on the simple out-and-back circuit. The only technical section comes at the midway point, in the shape of four 90-degree bends. Other than that it’s a simple drain-your-legs watt-fest. BMC are the reigning TTT world champs, and three of their six-man winning team are here — Taylor Phinney, Daniel Oss, and Manuel Quinziato. Other teams with time trial-heavy squads are Sky, Movistar, and Etixx, and it will likely be these four fighting for the podium spots. Trek have Fabian Cancellara, but even he can’t drive a whole team to victory on his own. Previous TTT experts Orica-GreenEdge have Svein Tuft and Luke ‘Turbo Durbo’ Durbridge, but, again, they’re not a team built to win this stage. Tinkoff could be the surprise package here; they lost out to BMC by only 1 second in last year’s Vuelta time trial, and aren’t looking too shabby this year. Otherwise, stage 1 is BMC’s to lose.
Stage 2, and you needn’t bother with watching the first half of this one; it’s all about the last 100km. Traditionally, the first road stage in Tirreno-Adriatico is reserved for the sprinters, but this year we have one more suited to the men of the Ardennes classics. The G.C. men will also be on alert. The riders will actually cross the finish line, in the wrong direction, at 31km, and descend down the road which they’ll be climbing back up later. G.C. riders like Domenico Pozzovivo, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquím Rodríguez, and Alejandro Valverde will like the short and punchy finish, as will strong uphill sprinters like Diego Ulissi and the in-form Davide Rebellin. However, we fancy Esteban Chaves to do something special here, as he did on a similar finish in the first road stage of last year’s Vuelta. This is also Michal Kwiatkowski‘s first stage race of the year for sky (he pulled out of the Volta ao Algarve), so he’ll be keen to get off to a flying start.
We have a few climbs in this stage, but likely none severe enough to drop any of the key sprinters, so this looks like their first stage. However, in the final kilometre there’s ramp up to the finish, which peaks at 7%, before the final flat 200m. This brings the sprint styles of Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, and Edvald Boasson Hagen to the fore. We can’t forget Orica’s Caleb Ewan, either, who’s in form at the moment, and who won a stage not unlike this against John Degenkolb in last year’s Vuelta. Also, Fabian Cancellara, fresh from his third Strade Bianche win at the weekend, has shown he’s still got an almighty kick to the line. Other one-day men who could snatch this from the pure sprinters include Sonny Colbrelli, Simone Ponzi, Ramūnas Navardauskus, and Tiesj Benoot.
The rolling profile of stage 4 stands out as the longest stage of the race, and, despite the climbs dotted along the route, this looks like another good one for the sprinters. The race closes with a circuit around Montefalco, Trevi, and Foligno, and the final climb at Montefalco comes with 15km to go. Expect to see the first pure bunch sprint here, with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Sam Bennett, Sacha Modolo, Elia Viviani, and Fernando Gaviria duking it out. Throw in Giant-Alpecin’s Nikias Arndt as a back up option in the sprint. However, the profile also suggests a decent oppotunity for a strong break to make it, or for an attack on the final climbs of Trevi and Montefalco. Alessandro De Marchi, Davide Formolo, Jan Bakelants, and Bob ’55 tooth’ Jungels could have this marked in their road books. We’re backing Cavendish, who is looking to find form ahead of Milan-Sanremo, and should be keen.
The queen stage of the tour, and where the the general classification will likely be decided. Four peaks are to be crested before the summit finish at Monte San Vicino, which itself is a whopping 13km at 6.6%. The win should be contested by Alejandro Valverde, Joaquím Rodríguez, Esteban Chaves, and Vincenzo Nibali. The second-tier threats to the G.C. should be Tejay Van Garderen, Rigoberto Uran, Rafael Valls, and Thibaut Pinot. A stage like this will also go some way to showing if Michal Kwiatkowski can cut it with the big G.C. names. A less likely win for the breakaway today could come in the form of José Gonçalves or perhaps Adam Yates.
The race organisers have this one down as a ‘flat sprinter’ stage, but this is another lumpy finish for the quick men. The final brings with it two 10km laps of rolling roads, with the final 5km all up hill. Again, look to Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Caleb Ewan, and Edvald Boasson Hagen. In fact, this year we could see not one pure ‘sprinter’ come away with a stage win in the Tirreno-Adriatico.
A 10.1km individual time trial rounds off this year’s tour. Only two 90 degree bends means this is another all-out power event, and we have two of the best in the business here: Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin. Movistar have Alex Dowsett and Nelson Oliveira, but the distance could be too short and not technical enough for them to overhaul Fabian and Tony. Time trial World Champion Vasil Kiryienka will want to give the rainbow bands a good showing here, and should post one of the top times. Edvald Boasson Hagen won the 11km ITT at this year’s Tour of Qatar, so he, along with and the BMC trio of Greg Van Avermaet, Manuel Quinzianto, and Daniel Oss, all look good for a top ten placing. Money’s on Tony Martin, though.
Andy is going with heart over head, and is rooting for Tejay Van Garderen. Tejay’s due a big win, and, with Richie Porte also looking to ride for BMC in the grand tours this year, he has to prove himself. Porte’s not got off to a flying start this season, but maybe Van Garderen can pull out a big move on the San Vicino climb.
Chris is going for Vincenzo Nibali. Despite a bit of a disappointing show in the Strade Bianche over the weekend, Nibali’s in a good shape at the moment, and will be wanting to repeat his 2013 season with a strong win in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Without Contador, Froome, or Quintana here, there’s no one here who can match Nibali if he gets into his top gear on the uphill finishes.
James is hoping that Esteban Chaves can go on the attack early like he did in last year’s Vuelta. The tour’s time trials aren’t perfect for the tiny Colombian superstar, but if he’s got form in hand he should be able to dance away on the climbs and have enough of a cushion come the final stage chrono.