Saturday, 9 March 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 4: Prati di Tivo

This is the stunning sight that awaits riders at the end of today's 173kilometre stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and after a fairly subdued summit finish at yesterdays Paris-Nice I'm hoping that today's display in Italy will be a little livelier...

The summit here comes after a long day of climbing as riders first tackle a couple of categorised climbs before reaching the penultimate Capannelle Pass, itself almost a 15kilometre climb. By the time the lead group reaches the foot of the Prati di Tivo they are likely to be strung out and suffering.

The Prati di Tivo is a 14.5km climb averaging around 7.1% but with sections at 12% interspersed throughout the roads rise. It was here last year where Vincenzo Nibali launched a solo attack gaining the race lead and eventually the overall win. Vincenzo is here again but the competition this year is far stronger than in 2012.

Mark Cavendish is currently in the leaders jersey but unless he drops 5 kilo's and swaps fast-twitch fibre for slow within the next couple of hours then he definitely won't be wearing the leaders ersey at the end of today - instead we will have a show-down between ALL of the Tour de France favourites in what could be the most spectacuar battle of the season so far.
Time gaps are currently minimal with perhaps Joaquim Rodriguez the furthest favourite back in the GC at 53 seconds. Many are tipping him for the stage with his explosive climbing power especially in the final kilometre where he has carved out a niche for himself in mountain top sprint victories. His climbing has certainly matured over the last couple of seasons and as we saw in the Vuelta last year he is easily capable of dropping the likes of Chris Froom and Alberto Contador on a steep finish.
Many will be watching how the battle between Chris Froom and Alberto Contador plays out as possible the two major favourites for the Tour de France in July. Froome rolled home as the winner of the Tour of Oman ahead of Contador earlier in the year though Contador says he was carrying extra weight which he has subsequently lost. Whether this means he will be better than Froome on the day is hard to judge because there is no telling whether Froome was at his peak in Oman either - indeed if he has progressed further in from since then Contador may find himself once again struggling to shake of the Brit.
Can Nibbles ride away again?
Elsewhere Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali will be eyeing up victory here and on their day both are more than capable in look in good form for this time of the year. Look out for others in the mix too, such as Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) and Chirs Horner (Radioshack).
One final note to make is that Andy Schleck is here too and if this race had been in 2011 we would be talking about him as a very possible winner - in recent seasons it looks as though Schleck has been struggling with form and dedication though he has at least finished one race this season (though withdrawn from many others). I don't expect to see him at the front on the final climb - he was dropped by his team in the opening Team Time Trial - but never right a Tour de France winner off, especially one who should still have his best years ahead of him...

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