The overall contenders at Tirreno-Adriatico face a potentially decisive day on Saturday as they tackle stage 4 from Narni to the summit finish at Prati di Tivo. The 173km stage brings the peloton from Umbria high into the Apennines near the Gran Sasso d’Italia and promises to dramatically alter the look of the general classification after successive bunch finishes.
The climbing gets underway early on with the ascent of the Forca di Arrone and the bunch also takes on the uncategorised haul up to Rocca di Corno after 90km. The principal difficulties come in the final 50 kilometres, however, with the 10km climb to the Passo delle Campanelle preceding the 15km final ascent to the finish at Prati di Tivo.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won atop Prati di Tivo this weekend last year and set himself up for final overall victory in San Benedetto del Tronto. The Sicilian is hoping to repeat the feat this time around, although he acknowledged that he is not in the same form as he was twelve months ago, given that he is building towards the Giro d’Italia rather than the classics.
“It will be a very important day that could decide the overall classification. There’ll certainly be a battle on the final climb and I have great memories of that from last year,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. The Sicilian was coy about his own chances, however. “I don’t know, we’ll see on the road. I feel quite good – not like last year but I’m here to fight. The weather will play a big role too.”
Indeed, with rain forecast during the afternoon and with snow banking the roadsides atop Prati di Tivo, it could be a particularly dramatic day of racing in central Italy. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) won the Tour of Lombardy is horrid conditions last September and he is among the favourites today.
“I’m not one of those guys who claim they like riding in the rain but it’s not bad for me either,” said Rodriguez, who admitted that he is quietly coming into form ahead of the Ardennes classics.
Rodriguez beat Nibali, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Chris Froome (Sky) at the summit finish at Green Mountain in the Tour of Oman last month and he said that Prati di Tivo would be another test of their credentials. After his Katusha team’s poor opening team time trial, of course, there is a particular onus on Rodriguez to attack.
“It’s the first hard stage we’ve done this year,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll see how I get on. I’m coming into a good moment but there are others here who are going well too. The level here at Tirreno is very high, but like I said, I’m in a good moment and I’m quite confident.”
Along with the big favourites of Froome, Evans, Contador, Rodriguez and Nibali, much attention will also focus on the progress of young Moreno Moser (Cannondale) at Prati di Tivo. The 21-year-old thrilled the tifosi by winning Strade Bianche last weekend, and the hope in Italy is that Moser will eventually develop into a stage race contender.
“It’s going to be a test for me against the best in the world in the climbs,” Moser told Gazzetta. “I don’t know how it will go but I’ll try to hang on and what happens, happens. But if it doesn’t work out for the GC, it’s no problem, I’ll look at winning stages instead.”
After three days of racing, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) holds the overall lead, 7 seconds clear of teammate Michal Kwiatkowski, with Tony Martin a further two seconds back.