Cadel Evans, Michal Kwiatkowski, Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Rigoberto Uran are all vying for the Sea Master Trophy at Tirreno-Adriatico.
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Contador, Porte, Evans and Kwiatkowski chase Sea Master Trophy
The big-name favourites for Tirreno-Adriatico avoided touching the winner's trophy and avoided revealing their hand and their race strategy during the press conference held 24 hours before the start of this year's race.
Riders believe touching a race trophy before a race can bring on bad luck and so posed nervously with the trident trophy awarded to the winner of 'The Race of the Two Seas.' They talked about the key stages of their race and their hopes and ambitions, but remained guarded about their true form and tactics for the race.
With so many Grand Tour contenders, star sprinters and Classics winners on the start list, race organisers were forced to hold two press conferences: the first for the main overall contenders such as Cadel Evans (BMC), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Richie Porte (Team Sky) Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Rigoberto Uran and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
The second was for the sprinters and Classics riders, with local hero Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) squeezing into the tiny room in the village of Bolgheri in the heart of Super Tuscan wine country.
The likes of Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Michele Scarponi (Astana), Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) were not invited and so able to enjoy their last afternoon snooze before the start of the seven days of racing. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) managed to avoid being snubbed despite being a Tour de France winner by arriving on a late flight. He and Team Sky's detailed reconnaissance for the team time trial will to wait for Wednesday morning.
Richie Porte (Team Sky) was a late call up to replace Chris Froome and also arrived late for the press conference, but was one of the first to face a question about why he has opted to ride Tirreno-Adriatico and not defend his Paris-Nice victory.
"Paris-Nice is a different race this year. I got some criticism coming so late to this race but it's 'horses for courses'," he explained.
"That's why so many more GC guys are here, because the course is much more suited to the GC guys than Paris-Nice is."
Cadel Evans admitted that he was also following team orders and preparing for his assault at the Giro d'Italia after his excellent start to the season at the Tour Down Under.
"The team wanted me to start well and get some points," he explained.
"Unfortunately the race (Tour Down Under) was decided by time bonuses and so to lose by so little, is frustrating. Now I'm looking to improve from there to here and from here right through to the Giro d'Italia."
"I think the climbs are a little bit longer than when I won in 2011 but there more riders here. It's going to interesting. Like any stage race, it’s important to be in front and save time. I don’t know the climbs and the steep finish will definitely be a test but the team time trial and the flat time trial could make a bit of a difference too."
Contador serious about his ambitions
Alberto Contador kept a serious face during the press conference and was serious about his intentions to win overall. Tirreno-Adriatico is not a warm-up for May's Giro d'Italia for him.
"The others are perhaps here thinking about the Giro. For me it's an important objective," he said.
"I've got three important races coming up: Tirreno-Adriatico, (Volta a Catalunya) and the Pais Vasco. I want to do well in them. I've worked a lot this winter and had good winter. I hope for a good result."
Contador has already studied the race route and knows that the mountain finish on Saturday and super steep Muro di Guardiagrele climb on Sunday will be key. We can expect to see the Spaniard fighting for placings on the mountain finishes because there are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds at each finish.
"In an important race like Tirreno-Adriatico, every day is important. The races are decided by little time gaps and so the time bonuses are important too. I think the second mountain stage will be hard but it all depends on how the other stages go before it."
Contador rebuked a suggestion that he may past his best now that he is 31-years-old.
"I feel different this year. I feel really good and better than last year and perhaps the best I've ever felt in my career. I've been a professional for quite a few years but I think I can be good for another two years."
Uran and Kwiatkowski: teammates or rivals?
Rigoberto Uran and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) sat next to each other in the press conference. Kwiatkowski's victories at the Volta ao Algarve and Strade Bianche have earned him a joint leadership role alongside the Colombian. Having two leaders gives Omega Pharma-Quick Step a tactical advantage but could also spark a clash of ambitions if both want to win.
Uran is always relaxed before a race but seemed ready to assert his leadership out on the road.
"We've got two riders who can do well. I think it's better for us because the route is very difficult. We'll what happens in the race," Uran said, perhaps counting on his experience.
"It's good thing there's a team time trial because we've got a strong team. The long climbs will be important too, but it’s a bit early to make predictions about how the race will go."
Kwiatkowski seemed to enjoy being invited to the top table of Tirreno-Adriatico, the race which first confirmed his stage racing talents.
"After wining Strade Bianche nothings changed for me," he insisted. "This race is very important for me. I finished fourth last year. It was the first stage race where I did well and where I learnt to believe in myself in the biggest races in the world, that I can do well in the future. Now I believe in myself."
"I think it's a good check-up for the rest of season. I'd like to do well because I've got good memories of last year. We've got a strong team and together with Rigo we can really do well."
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