Sagan, Nibali, Valverde speak to the press at Tirreno-Adriatico - Gallery

Van Garderen and Chaves join the opening press conference

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) are the big favourites for overall victory at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. Most of them kept their cards close to their chest during the pre-race press conference on Tuesday afternoon, knowing that the tough but balanced race route and the spring weather often lead to a difficult week of racing.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) was the only Classics rider invited to the press conference alongside the overall contenders. He has yet to win a race in the world champion’s rainbow jersey but pushed back any questions about his form after he fell short at Strade Bianche.

“Strade Bianche wasn’t a disaster and anyway I think this press conference is about Tirreno-Adriatico…” he said. “Strade Bianche is part of the past but it was a good race for me. It was only the third race of the year and the Tour de San Luis was a long time ago. I hope my form is growing.”

Sagan took time to study the race book during the press conference but was vague about targeting a specific stage in the next seven days.

“I took the book to see what I can do. But I don’t understand so much. I think I’ll look day by day to find out,’ he said.

In truth, stages 2, 3, 4 and 6 all suit him and so he could finally take his first win as world champion. Otherwise he will face further questions.

Van Garderen upbeat

Of the overall contenders, van Garderen as the most upbeat about his chances. The American finished second to Valverde at the Ruta del Sol and has the backing of a strong team.

“We have a few take away points from that race but in the end it was largely a build up race to hone my form for WorldTour events like this one. You have to take it for what it is. Coming here we have fresh motivation and we’re going to try to go for the victory,” he said.

Van Garderen said he has never ridden the key Monte San Vicino climb –the mountain finish on stage 6 but he is ready for it.

“I’ve never ridden it but we’ve studied the climb. We know what to expect, we know were the hard sections are. We had people on our performance side to map out and give us feed back we’ve done our homework,” he warned.

Nibali is the last Italian winner of Tirreno-Adriatico with back-to back success in 2012 and 2013. With the Giro d’Italia on his programme, he is back on roads he knows well and looking for confirmation of his form after suffering at Strade Bianche.

“My racing at the weekend went well, Strade Bianche is always a hard race, “he noted. “I felt good even if it doesn’t really suit me. I also rode Larciano on Sunday but I’d gone deep the day before. I’d hope to do better but it was a just a step towards this race. Compared to when I won Tirreno-Adriatico the field is better. My experience has taught me that a single stages doesn’t usually decide the GC, rather every stage can decide things. When I won, I won it in... it all happened in the last two days. Tirreno-Adriatico is always a difficult race.”

Valverde revealed that he has not ridden Tirreno-Adriatico since back in 2002 when he was a neo-pro. In the past he avoided racing in Italy as the Italian Anti-Doping Procura invested his involvement in Operacion Puerto, which lead to his ban. Now, at 35, he is back in Italy as he targets the Giro d’Italia in May.

“2002 was a different time. The years have passed and my goals are now different. I just hope to do as well as possible,” Valverde said.

Esteban Chaves earned his invitation to the pre-race press conference thanks to his strong ride in last year’s Vuelta a Espana. He is new to cycling’s top table and starts Tirreno-Adriatico with just three days of racing in his legs. Nibali pointed out that the Colombian had looked on form during the GP Larciano even if Chaves was cautious about his chances.

“What I can do? That’s a good question,” he said. “We had a good training camp in South Africa as a team. I’ve done three races but this is my first stage race and my first WorldTour race. Well see what happens. At the camp and the races the feelings were good at but this level you never know what will happen. I’ll be able to answer the question better at the end of the race.

“I don’t feel under pressure. The point is to enjoy the race in the finale. We’ve got two other options with Adam Yates, and Caleb Ewan for the sprints. We’ll take it day by day but without any pressure.”

With that the riders posed for photographs and did further individual interviews. Wednesday’s opening 22km team time trial will give the first real answers on the favourite form and their chances of victory in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico.

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