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Cavendish, Cancellara, Froome, Nibali, Contador, Evans, Rodriguez headline Tirreno Adriatico
Froome, Evans, Contador, Nibali, Rodriguez to square off in Italy
The Tirreno-Adriatico start list is packed with some of the sports biggest names but they stayed tipped lipped about their race strategy and their form in the pre-race press conference.
Overall contenders Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) all attended the press conference, with Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team), completing the parterre de roi of the Italian stage race.
Chris Froome wants to get the max out of the race
Froome appeared to have the best form at the Tour of Oman but refused to be swayed off the Team Sky message.
"Hopefully I haven't lost any form this early in the season," he said.
"Every race I do now is important for the process of going to the races, focusing on the result, to get the max out it. This is the way to continue up to the Tour de France; going to each race, testing my strengths and weaknesses, being in this position as a leader to gain some experience and taking the most I can from each race. There's a strong field here, a tough parcour and so it's going to be a really testing week of racing."
Evans looking to turn around poor 2012
Evans won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2011 and hopes to rediscover that rich vein of form after a difficult 2012.
"Nothing went right in 2012 and so I hope to be back to my level in 2013. I want to do well like 2011," he said.
"It's tough route and the weather forecast isn’t great, so that will make it harder this year too. I'm not sure how many Grand Tour winners we've got here but its probably the best ever field for the race. It should be good."
Rodriguez a true GC contender
Not many people expected Joaquim Rodriguez to still be racing in Katusha colours after the Russian teams ethical and UCI licence problems/. However the little Spaniard made his name on the steep finishes in Tirreno and now rightly considers himself a true overall contender.
"I think it's a good moment for me. I've worked hard for Tirreno-Adriatico. It's a tough course and the final TT isn't that long for the specialists, so I'd like to do well."
"Can I win? I don't know. There are some good riders here, like in every big race. It'll be difficult but I've got good form, so we'll see."
Contador: the rider to beat
Contador sat in the middle of the press conference table and is rightly considered the rider to beat because his climbing and time trial skills. However, it is his first ever assault at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"Italy is my second home and it feels special for me to ride Tirreno-Adriatico because it's not like any other race. I think it'll be the most hard fought race after the three Grand Tours."
"I've studied the route, I study up before every big race, especially for a new race as this one is for me. I've got experienced teammates and I'm sure they'll help me. I want to win, I hope to be up there, but I hope it's a good race for everyone too."
Nibali building toward Giro
Nibali admitted that is form was better when he won last year. Then the Italian race was an early season goal before taking a break and preparing for the Tour de France. This year the race comes during his build-up to the Giro d'Italia.
"I think my form was better last year because my season was focused on doing well in the first part. My team is good and so I'll try to do a good race. The quality of the riders is very high with Froome, Alberto, Cadel and Joaquim. It'll be an exciting, hilly and hard fought race."
Cancellara, Cavendish and Sagan to vie for stages
Cancellara, Cavendish and Sagan watched and listened in amusement as the overall contenders avoided showing their cards. Tirreno-Adriatico will be important for all three as they chase stage victory but is also a vital week of racing so they can perfect their form for Milano-Sanremo and the Belgian Classics.
"We've got Chris (Horner) for the overall, while l'll see what I can do day by day," Cancellara said.
"For sure Tirreno-Adriatico is an important race because I won it once and it gives me what I need for the upcoming classics. It's a race that I need."
"As usual I'm not really thinking my rivals," Cavendish pointed out. "This guy (pointing to Sagan) he'll be waiting for us a lot this week than we waited for him to turn up at the press conference. I'm here to see what happens and have a go in the first couple of days, then I'll ride the race."
Sagan has been on fire in the last two weeks, winning two stages at the Tour of Oman and then the GP di Camaiore. However he ruled out any chance of overall success at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"I don't think I an win." He said. "My objectives are further down the road and I'm here to find my best form. The classifica is too hard for me, at least this year. But we'll see day by day."