Five conclusions from Tirreno-Adriatico

Quintana leads Tour favourites, Mollema and Pinot shine

Quintana marks himself out as Tour de France favourite

If Alberto Contador and Chris Froome were on another planet at the Vuelta a Andalucia last month, then in what galaxy does one place Nairo Quintana after this Tirreno-Adriatico? The Colombian’s clinical disposal of Contador atop a snowy Monte Terminillo was a cold reminder that the Tour de France will not be a two-man battle. Indeed, given the mountainous parcours, Quintana is the perhaps the outstanding favourite for top honours in July.

Calculations of Froome’s power output at the Ruta del Sol raised eyebrows, but considering the difficulty of the route and the calibre of his opponents, Quintana’s display on Monte Terminillo was, on sight at least, the most impressive by a Tour contender so far this year. One acceleration was all it took for Quintana to ease clear of Contador et al with four kilometres remaining, and he scarcely relented all the way to the summit as he pulled away to win by almost a minute.

Quintana’s lone sign of weakness came in the final time trial, where he conceded almost a half a minute to Contador and Vincenzo Nibali in just ten kilometres, but given the paucity of time trialling miles on this year’s Tour route, it hardly seems the most pressing concern at this juncture.

At the Tour de San Luis in January, Quintana estimated that he was only at 50 percent of his condition. The man from Boyaca didn’t provide any exact updates on that figure in Italy, but one imagines he still reckons there is still room for improvement come July. A sobering thought. (BR)

Fantastic four showdown fizzles out

While Tirreno-Adriatico produced some high-quality racing and a worthy winner in Nairo Quintana, the highly anticipated battle between the fantastic four of Grand Tour contenders never materialised, leaving a veil of disappointment hanging over the fiftieth edition of the race.

Tirreno-Adriatico was expected to be the only time the big four would go head-to-head before the Tour de France, leaving ASO struggling to hide their envy. Only Quintana appeared to be on true Grand Tour form and deservedly earned the crown of current Tour favourite. Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome were left facing questions about their training and spring preparation.

Froome opted not to start Tirreno-Adriatico because of a last minute illness, Nibali was nowhere near his Tour de France winning level and reportedly two kilogrammes above his race weight and at 9 per cent body fat instead of 6 per cent. He has confirmed he will ride Milan-San Remo before a much-needed block of training at altitude and the Ardennes Classics. Contador had a bad race right from the opening time trial and was unable to go after Quintana on the steady slopes of Terminillo. He was even unable to drop riders fighting for a top ten place. Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis refused to reveal to Cyclingnews what was wrong but both Contador and Froome will need to show signs of progression at the Volta a Catalunya next week if they are to stop the questions.

There are constant calls for a season-long narrative and more head-to-head battles between the big names to help market the sport. Fortunately this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico showed that professional cycling is still wildly unpredictable but much more fascinating as a consequence. (SF)

Mollema and Pinot show few complexes

Tirreno-Adriatico also provided a welcome reminder that there is life outside the Big Four when it comes to the battle for the Tour podium, with both Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) showing few complexes over the week in Italy.

Pinot has never made any secret of his yearning to race more often south of the Alps and while FDJ’s interests mean that his Giro debut is not likely to take place any year soon, he clearly enjoyed a rare opportunity to test himself on Italian roads at Tirreno-Adriatico. He kept his cool in the frenetic finale at Castelraimondo and exercised prudence at Monte Terminillo, when he opted not to follow Quintana’s acceleration, though he made decent attempts to rid himself of Contador and Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) nearer the summit, and did enough to ride into 4th place overall.

Mollema, too, showed savvy at Monte Terminillo, when he waited for a lull in the chase group before clipping away to help himself to second on the stage and, ultimately, second place overall. Over his career Mollema has tended to be more of a follower in the high mountains, but the off-season switch to a position of sole stage racing leadership at Trek may have triggered a change in mind-set. This was an encouraging start, at least.

Although time trialling won’t be as crucial as normal at this year’s Tour, both Mollema and Pinot will also be pleased with their displays against the watch, particularly at San Benedetto del Tronto, where they defended 2nd and 4th overall against Uran and Contador, respectively. Considering his disastrous effort in the final time trial at last year’s Tour, it was an especially encouraging outing for the Dutchman. (BR)

Only a Monument win will do for Sagan

Peter Sagan’s victory at Porto Sant’Elpidio ended a nine-month drought and eased some of the pressure that followed his big money switch to Tinkoff-Saxo, but the Slovak will be all too aware that the success or otherwise of his campaign will be judged squarely on whether or not he manages to land victory at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.

Getting off the mark at Tirreno is undoubtedly a boost to Sagan’s morale ahead of the Classics but it still tells us precious little about what he might achieve over the next four Sundays because his was a rare kind of drought to begin with. Sagan suffered no discernible collapse in form since winning the Slovak national title last June, as testified by his remarkable sequence of 20 top five finishes in the intervening period. Instead, like Diego Forlan’s early days at Manchester United, Sagan kept on sniffing out scoring opportunities only to fail repeatedly to hit the target.

One school of thought says that having rediscovered the knack of winning, the floodgates should open for Sagan in the weeks ahead, but then again, he entered the past two editions of Milan-San Remo as the overwhelming favourite on the back of wins at Tirreno only to fall flat on the big day.

The Classics follow a logic all of their own, and Sagan has struggled to comprehend it thus far in his career. His motor over 250 plus kilometres is not in question so much as his tactical acumen, and as yet there has been no compelling evidence either way as to whether the switch to Tinkoff-Saxo – and the input of Bjarne Riis – has remedied that failing. Only the coming weeks will tell us.

Stage 3 and 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico did suggest, however, that the Tinkoff-Saxo team should offer more robust support than Cannondale were able to muster, although some of Sagan’s more prominent aides this week – such as Ivan Basso – will not be at the Classics, while the experienced Daniele Bennati is nursing an Achilles injury that has kept him away from the cobbles in the past. (BR)

Is Cavendish hiding in the hope of winning Milan-San Remo?

Mark Cavendish claimed he did not know how well he will recover from the efforts of riding a wet and cold Tirreno-Adriatico and what form he will have for Milan-San Remo.

He started Tirreno-Adriatico still suffering from the effects of a violent stomach virus picked up during a sponsor trip to South Africa and the tough racing left him fatigued. He was unable to contest the sprint finishes after losing his chain in the final metres in Cascina on stage two and then attacks by Tinkoff-Saxo spat him out of the peloton on the rain-soaked sixth stage to Porto Sant’Elpidio.

Tinkoff-Saxo won the battle that day but Cavendish moved quickly to turn the table on a major rival and loaded the responsibility for controlling Milan-San Remo onto the shoulder of Peter’s Sagan’s team. Milan-San Remo is the race that really counts and Cavendish seems ready to use every possible mind game and tactic to give him a chance of winning on the Via Roma.

The Manxman and his Etixx-QuickStep team are keeping their cards, information on their true form and especially on their race tactics close to their chest. We will probably only know their plans when the race unfolds on the Cipressa and Poggio as the team also has Zdenek Stybar and Michal Kwiatkowski. Both are on form, allowing Cavendish to save every drop of energy and power for a possible sprint finish.

Cavendish’s lack of results and fatigue could be a real concern and could affect his chances of winning Milan-San Remo for a second time but they could also be a foil to deflect attention and allow him to fly below the radar until he emerges, tucked over the bars, sprinting to victory up the Via Roma. (SF)

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