Time trials bookend the Race of the Two Seas
The route of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico has been unveiled in Italy, with the opening 16.9km team time trial, a mountain finish at Prati di Tivo and final 9.2km time trial set to decide who takes home the trident winner's trophy.
Tirreno-Adriatico is traditionally a springboard for riders looking to win Milano-Sanremo. Most big-name sprinters are expected to fine-tune their form during the seven days of racing but this year's 'Race of the Two Seas' will see 2012 winner Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Chris Froome fighting for overall success.
The route is finely balanced between time trial and mountains stages. The opening 16.9km team time trial covers a flat and fast course near the Mediterranean coast and through the Bolgheri vineyards.
Orica-GreenEdge won the team time trial last year but Team Sky, BMC Racing Team and Team Saxo-Tinkoff will all be looking to gain precious seconds on their rivals, knowing they could be vital later in the race.
Stage two to Indicatore, near Arezzo, and stage three to Narni Scalo are both suited to the sprinters. Cavendish won here in 2012, wearing the rainbow jersey. Cavendish has reportedly been entered to ride Paris-Nice this year but his name was mentioned by the race organiser of Tirreno-Adriatico.
The key mountain stage is on day four with the climb up to the finish in Prati di Tivo in the mountains of Abruzzo. Last year, Vincenzo Nibali won alone at the Apennine ski resort, setting up overall victory. This year, stage five from Ortona to Chieti will also be decisive, with the 1310m high Passo Larciano peaking 40km from the finish of the 230km stage and then the steep uphill finish to the centre of Chieti.
Stage six heads into the rolling hills behind the Adriatic coast and will be perfect for riders who want to find the form to handle the capi that decide Milano-Sanremo. If the overall classification is still close after six stages, the final 9.2km individual time trial around San Benedetto del Tronto will allow the best time trial experts to pull back precious seconds.
Ivan Basso, Moreno Moser (Team Cannondale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Tuscan resident Steve Cummings (BMC Racing Team) were at the route presentation.
Basso is likely to ride Paris-Nice this season but was tempted to change programme.
"It's a good-looking route. We decide our race programmes during the winter but now we'll weigh things up and decide," he said, admitting that the Cannondale team for Tirreno-Adriatico is likely to be built around Peter Sagan.
"It's difficult to predict who will win. The TTT could be decisive and anything could happen on the hilly stages if the race explodes."
Cunego confirmed he will ride, through the time trials will be a handicap for the diminutive Italian.
"I'll ride Tirreno-Adriatico this year. It's a complete race route, there's everything in it. It'll be difficult to say how the race will shake out but it'll be a goal for me," he said during the presentation.
Moreno Moser has replaced Cunego as the rising star of Italian cycling and his uncle, Francesco Moser, won Tirreno-Adriatico in 1908 and 1981.
"I won't have raced much before Tirreno-Adriatico and that's a pity but I'll give my best to do something. I hope to do something. We'll have a good team for the TTT. The mountain finish perhaps suits Nibali and Contador better than me but I'd love to go for the hilly stage to Chieti, where Sagan won last year.
"It's motivating going up against the big-name riders like Contador but when the adrenaline kicks in, you aren't afraid to take them on and give your best."
March 6: Stage 1: San Vincenzo-Donoratico TTT 16.9km
March 7: Stage 2: San Vincenzo-Indicatore (Arezzo) 232km
March 8: Stage 3: Indicatore (Arezzo)-Narni Scalo 190km
March 9: Stage 4: Narni-Prati di Tivo 173km
March 10: Stage 5: Ortona-Chieti 230km
March 11: Stage 6: Porto Sant'Elpidio-Porto Sant'Elpidio 209km
March 12: Stage 7: San Benedetto del Tronto- San Benedetto del Tronto
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