Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: A Preview

While much of the focus this week has been directed at the historical Paris-Nice stage race which started on Sunday, there is another race starting tomorrow which could grab far more headlines, Tirreno-Adriatico. Whilst only 47 editions old and lacking much of the history of Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico has something that Paris-Nice doesn't this year: A Tour de France worthy start-list...

The 'Race of the Two Seas' follows a route from the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts of Italy and with two stages in excess of 230 kilometres it is often used as preparation for those riders looking to win the lengthy Milan-San Remo one day classic. For many, this race will still act as preparation for the classics but this year will also see the main Tour de France contenders line up at the start as they use the long, mountainous race as a stepping stone to July.
The race is typically well rounded and does provide something for everybody. The longer stages will help develop riders ahead of the classics, these can double up as couple of sprint stages for the fast men, a Team Time Trial, an Individual Time Trial, some mid-mountain stages and two high mountain stages, one of which includes a particularly difficult summit finish. If Paris-Nice is sometimes referred to as a miniature Tour, then Tirreno-Adriatico is surely that as well.
Stage 4 and the summit finish.
Stages 4, 5 and the closing Individual Time Trial will decide the general classification barring major incident. Stage 4 is where the fireworks begin with a gruelling 173km ride from Narni to the summit finish at Prati di Tivo - a 14.5km long climb averaging over 7% but with ramps of upto 12%. It is here where Vincenzo Nibali launched his attack for overall glory last year taking victory at the summit and holding the leaders jersey until the races end. If the finishing climb itself isn't difficult enough, it comes after 160km of rolling terrain including two other categorised climbs.
With the Queen stage out of the way we could easily be fooled into thinking the winner of stage 4 would simply walk his way to overall classification glory but this is unlikely to be the case. Stage 5 is also a high mountain but it's the length which is the real killer here. It's mountainous thoughout its 230 kilometres with tough categorised climbs up the Forchetta di Palena and the Lanciano Pass along the way. The climb to the finish isn't categorised but if it is short then it is sharp with gradients maxing out at 19% on the final run into Chieti. Riders will certainly be tired heading into stage 6 - a mid-mountain stage without any huge climbs but the profile speaks for itself - it's a case of up-down-up-down throughout, just the type of leg-sapping ride the peloton needs after two massive days in the mountains.
A leg-sapping stage 6.
By now the general classification is likely to be well fractured but certainly not definitive - there are plenty of climbers at this race who can do masses of damage when the roads head skywards but there are only relatively few of those who can put in a lung-busting final time trial. If riders like Joaquim Rodriguez only manage to take a few seconds on their rivals in the mountains then they will likely lose them during the final 9.2km time trial in San Benedetto Del Tronto to the likes of Christopher Froome and the TT specialists. 9.2 kilometres isn't long and the coarse is pan-flat so we are not talking time gaps minutes long, but every second really will count here and with the main contenders so close in terms of performance and attributes the race could come down to the wire.
Another Froome V Contador Battle?
So who are these main contenders that make this race such a mouth watering prospect? Well Tirreno-Adriatico is no stranger to Grand Tour names, a look back over the last 5 years and winning names include the likes of Nibali, Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi and Fabian Cancellara and this year is likely to repeat that feat with no less than Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans and of course Alberto Contador on the start-list. These same riders clashed at the Tour of Oman in February with three of them finishing on the podium, Chris Froome the highest step. Oman was a real early season delight and Tirreno has all the makings of another truly exceptional early season race. I predict a similar podium but maybe with some riders trading places - Contador for example has spoken of carrying extra weight in Oman, weight which he now hints he may have lost whilst all of the contenders look in exceptional form, especially so early in the year.
There are some other formidable riders on show here, not least that of Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) who could also make in-roads into the general classification, after all we cannot discount a rider who featured so heavily in last years Giro d'Italia though he does have very visible weaknesses. Though his small stature makes him a whippet on the ascents it doesn't lend itself well to long flat stages and Time Trials though a spectacular stage win isn't out of his reach. Others in this category include Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), both of which could make themselves known in the GC. Names like Fabian Cancellara, Pippo Pozzato, Lars Boom, Nocentini, Peter Sagan and Moreno Moser round out a fanciful looking start list and although it's unlikely that they will feature in the general classification they will maybe have their moments on the long rolling stages with all looking to be in good form for Milan-San Remo.

Clash Of The Titans
Cavendish and Greipel Go Head to Head
Just another quick note to mention a secondary storyline playing out over the next week. Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel will be racing againt each other for the first time this season, both have racked up a number of wins already this season and now is the moment we find out just who is the number 1 sprinter so far in 2013. There really are so many levels to this years race.
Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico both offer different things this year. Paris-Nice is made exciting by the lack of overall contenders - it may offer up a surprise winner and give some of those new riders lurking in the shadows a chance to shine. On the flip-side, Tirreno-Adriatico is made exciting by it's inclusion of so many big names. The race will offer up an early pre-Tour insight and provide one of the biggest clashes on talent outside of France this year. If I could only choose one then I would have to follow Tirreno, lucky for us then that both are live on television over the coming week and after a shaky start to the year coverage-wise, it now looks as though we are spoilt for choice. It may only be March, but the next 8 days of racing are likely to be some of the best this year.

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