Tour contenders face off in Tirenno-Adriatico

Nibali, Quintana and Contador headline Italian race

The 50th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico may have lost some lustre due to the late withdrawal of Chis Froome (Team Sky) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) but the "Race of the two seas" is still set to produce some thrilling racing and big-name face offs, as riders target overall victory and stage success.

Paris-Nice was once the race to win in March but after Italian organiser RCS Sport beefed up the race route and refused to let the seven days of racing be just training for Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico has hosted some spectacular racing with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) winning the trident trophy in 2012 and 2014 and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) taking the honours in 2014.

Both are back in 2015, with Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) also a huge overall contender. The absence of Froome means the much hoped for showdown between the so-called Grand Tour ‘Fantastic Four’ has been delayed. However the trio of winners from the 2014 Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana will still clash, with the mountain finish atop Terminillo and the final 10km time trial no doubt the decisive stages.

Contador is perhaps on better form after impressing at the Ruta del Sol but faces a long hard season as he rides both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Nibali rode the Tour of Oman and his form is growing but he is under pressure after the UCI called for the Licence Commission to withdraw Astana’s World tour licence.

Quintana will make his European debut at Tirreno-Adriatico but has been training hard in Colombia since crashing at the Colombian national championships. As he proved at the Giro d’Italia, he can be a difficult rider to control and match on the climbs. Of course, we shouldn’t forget possible outsiders like Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and perhaps even Pete Kennaugh (Team Sky).

While the Grand Tour trio will perhaps dominate the overall classification narrative, other riders will take centre stage on the flatter stages.

The absence of Marcel Kittel is a loss but Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling) will no doubt be happy and ready to target the sprints finishes.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Strade Bianche winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickSTep) Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Matt Goss (MTN-Qhubeka) will be looking to prepare for the Classics but also try their hand on the hiller stages when the sprints might not make the cut. The 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico is a race of big names.

From the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic

Tirreno-Adriatico has started close to Rome and Naples in the past but this year kicks off high up on the Tuscany coast in the holiday resort of Lido di Camaiore.

Wednesday’s planned opening 22.7km team time trial has been replaced with a 5.7km individual time trial after recent strong winds flattened lots of pine trees on the route. It is a pity to loose the spectacular racing of the team time trial but the shorter individual time trial will likely produce a tighter overall classification for the first part of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stages two and three take the riders across Tuscany, first to Cascina near Pisa, and then to Arezzo in the heart of central Italy. Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling) won in Cascina in 2014 and the sprinters will surely be in charge in Cascina again his year. The uphill finish in Arezzo will lead to a more selective finale, eliminating some of the sprinters. Sagan won here in Arezzo in 2014 and could finally take his first win of 2015 for Tinkoff-Saxo in the city if he has the same power and speed. If he again falls short, the questions about his form will become much louder.

Stage four to Castelraimondo on Saturday is perfect for a breakaway attempt, with the big showdown of the race coming on Sunday, on the climb to Terminillo. The 16km road twists up the side of the mountain on a wide road and finishes at 1675m amongst the snow and local skiers, who flock from nearby Rome. Whoever reaches the finish first could gain enough of an advantage to set up overall success.

Tirreno-Adriatico reaches the Adriatic coast on stage six with a 210km ride to Porto Sant'Elpidio. This will be the last chance for the sprinters and their teams before the final stage seven 10km individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. The short flat time trial is up and down the pan-flat seafront and so is about power and pure speed. It will decide who lifts the iconic trident winner’s trophy after a week of intense and highly competitive racing.

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