Tirreno-Adriatico preview: A full Italian menu of racing

Nibali, Valverde and others to flex their muscles ahead of Milan-San Remo and the Giro d'Italia

This year’s Tirreno-Adriatico looks set to be a classic edition of the ‘Race of the Two Seas’, with something for everyone during the seven days of racing between Lido di Camaiore on the Tyrrhenian coast and San Benedetto del Tronto on the Adriatic coast.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) are expected to fight for victory and the winner’s trident trophy, while the Classics stars and sprinters will use the tough race through the Italian Apennines to polish their form before Milan-San Remo and other spring races.

A stage win is a huge boost to moral for any rider focused on Milan-San Remo and a psychological blow on their rivals.

The race route in detail

This year’s route is similar to previous years and will again start with a 22-kilometre team time trial in the Tuscan holiday resort of Lido di Camaiore. Last year a storm took down numerous trees, forcing organiser RCS Sport to change the stage into a short individual time trial. The weather is not great in Tuscany at the moment but the team time trial is expected to shake out the overall contenders.

Stages 2 and 3 head south through Tuscany with finishes in Pomerance and then Montalto di Castro. Both should end with a sprint finish but the finale before Pomerance includes several rolling climbs and sharp kick up at 15 per cent just three kilometres from the finish. It is ideal for a finisseur or even a late attack by the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) or Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).

Stage 3 includes several early climbs but has a flat finish and should see a show down between Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and his track rivals Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky). Other sprinters in action to watch out for in Italy include Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo) and especially Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge).

Stage 4 to Foligno takes the race inland for a 222km day in the saddle – the longest in this year’s race. A long finishing circuit includes a testing climb to Montefalco that is covered twice. It is 5.5km long and is covered for the final time just 15km from the finish. It should eliminate many of the sprinters but still produce a thrilling finale.

In 2015 Nairo Quintana won the key mountain stage to Terminillo in the snow. This year features a finish to Monte San Vicino in the heart of the Marche region. The 176km stage includes four serious climbs during the stage and then a 10km (avg 7.8%) climb to the finish at 1208m. It will be hard day out for everyone and especially the overall contenders.

Any time gaps taken here could be enough to hold onto the race lead on the flat sixth stage to Cepagatti and even in the final and traditional 10km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto.

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The overall contenders

Last year saw a battle between Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador for the winner’s blue jersey. Both are absent this year but the Tirreno-Adriatico start list seems to have attracted more high-profile riders than French rival Paris-Nice.

Nibali was the last of the 24 Italian winners of Tirreno-Adriatico when he took back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013. He won the recent Tour of Oman and seems determined to ride aggressively this spring as he builds up to the Giro d’Italia, which is now less than two months away.

Many of his rivals at Tirreno-Adriatico will also challenge him for the maglia rosa in May and so it will be fascinating to see how the likes of Chaves, Valverde, Wout Poels (Team Sky), Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale), and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) perform. Others to watch carefully include Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Jurgen Van den Broeck and his Katusha teammate Joaquim Rodriguez. Michal Kwiatkowski leads Team Sky and he first emerged at the 2013 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, going close to winning the key mountain stage to Prati di Tivo. He has since won the world road title and joined the British squad but is still only 25.

If the battle for overall victory is the main course of Tirreno-Adriatico, then the opening TTT is the antipasti, as Tirreno-Adriatico offers a full Italian menu of racing during the seven stages.

BMC, Etixx-QuickStep, Tinkoff, Astana and Trek-Segafredo all expected to challenge natural favourites Orica-GreenEdge in the TTT on Wednesday. The Australian team has overall ambitions and so included climbers and well as rouleurs in its team of nine this year, perhaps reducing their chances and making for a very close race.

The rolling stages in the Apennines are the pasta dish for the Classics riders and sprinters, with Cancellara, Sagan, Cavendish, Boasson Hagen, Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) no doubt ready to flex their muscles and fill their stomachs before the Classics. The sprints will be a revenge match between Gaviria, Cavendish and Viviani after the track worlds but also a chance for Ewan, Modolo and Nizzolo to get the better of the trio due to their lack of recent road racing.

The final time trial is the desert and digestivo, with Tony Martin (Etixx-Quickstep) and perhaps Cancellara the favourites to fight for the final stage victory before everyone’s thoughts turn to Milan-San Remo.

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