Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is quietly confident he can win Tirreno-Adriatico and get the better of his big-name rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on the important mountain stage of Tirreno-Adriatico to Terminillo on Sunday.
The Spaniard finished in the first chase group in Castelraimondo on Saturday, 14 seconds behind solo winner Wouter Poels (Team Sky) and is now 10th overall at 32 seconds. He crashed with 50 kilometres to go, forcing him to chase to avoid losing time.
He will need to distance Poels on the 16km climb to the finish at Terminillo and may need to gain further time in the final time trial stage on Tuesday if he is to lift the winner’s trident trophy for a second consecutive year. Stage victory at Terminillo would also give him a 10-second time bonus that could prove to be vital on the final classification.
“Every second is always very important in a race like Tirreno-Adriatico, but now it all depends on what happens on tomorrow's stage. Some rivals like Nibali have lost more seconds but the final result will depend on what happens in both the Terminillo and in the final time trial,” he said after Saturday’s stage.
“I feel good, but in this race we've not had a real climb yet, so until we get to the climbs, you don't really know how you are. But I'm feeling good and ready. I showed that I'm going well in Andalusia even if I finished second on the overall. My goal in Tirreno-Adriatico is the same: to give my all, but my mind is also on the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Those are the stage races I want to win. There are years that a rider wins a lot before the Grand Tours and others where he doesn't. We’ll see what happens.”
Snow on Terminillo
Contador has never raced on Terminillo but knows it is a power climb, where having strong teammates to line out the peloton and push his rivals to their threshold is vital before he launches an attack. There is a risk of cold rain and even snow at the 1675m high finish but race organiser RCS Sport has confirmed that the stage is set to go ahead as scheduled.
“It's the principle stage, the one that’s going to mark this race,” Contador suggested. “I just hope it doesn’t snow and the roads are fine. It'll give me and the others an idea of where we are form wise on the climbs.”
Victory on Terminillo and especially overall success at the end of Tirreno-Adriatico would confirm Contador as the world’s best stage racer. It would be a clear message to his rivals for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, especially Chris Froome (Team Sky), who opted to stay at home after being struck by a last-minute illness.
Contador refuted a suggestion that in footballing terms, Froome is current leading 1-0 after he won the Ruta del Sol stage race after dropping Contador on the toughest mountain finish.
“Ha!” he said with a laugh at the football paradigm. “You can look at that in two ways: Froome 1, Contador 0, or you can see it as Contador 2, Froome 1. I say that because I won the first time trial and the first mountain top finish!”
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Riis expects Contador to step up
Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis was not happy after Contador’s disappointing time trial on the opening stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. But he expects his team leader to step up and do the job on Terminillo, especially after Peter Sagan finished second in both Cascina and Arezzo.
“This race is a stepping stone (to the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France) but of course he always wants to do well when he races. He's not in his top condition, but we know that even at 80 or 90 per cent he can still win,” Riis said of Contador.
“If you want to win Tirreno, then you have to be attentive, you have to be there ready for whatever on the uphills and the downhills, before making a prediction on the what will happen on Terminillo. The 16km wide road climbs constantly, with a gradient of 8.1 per cent during the first half and then at 7.9 per cent in the second half.
“The guy with the strongest legs will win,” Riis said succinctly. “When it's not so steep, it’s easy to sit on the wheel. It'll probably suit Nibali more but I think Quintana will be good too. He looks sharp and is probably the strongest.”