10 riders to watch at Tirreno-Adriatico

Van der Poel Sagan Bernal Tirreno riders to watch
Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan and Egan Bernal are three riders to watch (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Just six months after the delayed 2020 edition, Tirreno-Adriatico returns to its usual pre-Milan-San Remo slot, March 10-16, 2021. While last year’s race was extended to eight stages, the Race of the Two Seas returns to its traditional seven-day format in 2021.

The race’s big weekend continues on stage 5 with the so-called Tappa dei Muri – the ‘Stage of the Walls’ – that will see the peloton tackle four laps of a tough, 23km circuit around Castelfidardo in the finale of the stage. Tirreno-Adriatico will once again finish with the traditional 10.1-kilometre time trial on the seafront in San Benedetto del Tronto.

There are plenty of star names set to start in Lido di Camaiore, including the reigning champion, four Tour de France winners, three world champions, an Olympic champion and two cyclo-cross world champions.

Even that is far from a definitive list of the big names among the 175 who will start the race. We've picked out 10 of them, though, so read on for our selection of the 10 riders to watch at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of the Tirreno-Adriatico, followed by race reports, news and interviews. For more information on how to watch live coverage of the race, visit - How to watch Tirreno-Adriatico 2021 – live TV and streaming.

Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange)

Age: 28

Reason to watch: Can he defend his title?

Tirreno Adriatico 2020 55th Edition 8th stage San Benedetto del Tronto San Benedetto del Tronto 101 km 14092020 Simon Yates GBR Mitchelton Scott photo Roberto BettiniBettiniPhoto2020

Simon Yates won the famous trident trophy last September (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Yates heads into the race as the defending champion and a rider looking to use the Italian race as a stepping stone towards the Giro d'Italia. A small crash in Strade Bianche wasn't the ideal way in which to kickstart his campaign but the Australian team will be quietly hoping that their GC leader can deliver a promising performance.

So far, the team have failed to win in Europe, and although Michael Matthews looks competitive in Paris-Nice, this is a team that will be relying on Yates even more after the departure of his brother to Ineos Grenadiers over the winter.

The remaining Yates isn't familiar with the climb to Prati di Tivo that will decide the penultimate stage and define the GC standings ahead of the final time trial, but the classic Tirreno route provides enough fertile ground for the 28-year-old to move himself into the frame. (DB)

Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)

Age: 24

Reason to watch: Back to his best

SIENA ITALY MARCH 06 Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo Visma during the Eroica 15th Strade Bianche 2021 Mens Elite a 184km race from Siena to Siena Piazza del Campo Gravel Strokes Fans Public StradeBianche on March 06 2021 in Siena Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Egan Bernal impressed to take third at Strade Bianche (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

After having left last year's Tour de France suffering from back pain, admitting that a leg length imbalance caused scoliosis, and that months of rehabilitation lay ahead, Bernal's status heading into 2021 was full of uncertainty, something that was only enhanced when it was announced he would focus on the Giro d'Italia rather than the Tour this year.

Just 11 race days later, though, and any worries already look to be far overblown. The Colombian took third at the Tour de la Provence behind teammate Iván Sosa, then sprinted to second at Trofeo Laigueglia after an aggressive display. Now, he comes to Tirreno off the back of a third place at his Strade Bianche debut, an unexpected result even if he had started out on the mountain bike.

He returns to the race for the first time since 2017 as one of the top favourites to triumph if not the number one, even with Pogačar and Yates lining up. All eyes will be on him on the stage 4 summit finish at Prati di Tivo, with the wall of Castelfidardo and final time trial other stern tests along the way. Bernal has little to prove after his start to the season, but he'll no doubt want to prove more against such a quality field. (DO)

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Age: 31

Reason to watch: Healthy and racing again

Giro d'Italia 2020 - 103th Edition - Tortoret - 13/10/2020 - Peter Sagan (SVK - Bora - Hansgrohe) - photo Dario Belingheri/BettiniPhoto©2020

Sagan was last in action at the 2020 Giro, where he took a memorable solo victory (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

After catching COVID-19 and pushing back his season start, the hope is that Sagan can simply arrive on the start line fit and healthy. There will be very little pressure on his shoulders over the next fortnight with Tirreno and Milan-San Remo both on his programme, and little expectancy in terms of results given the former three-time world champion's current trajectory.

He hasn't raced since last October, when he soloed to a mesmerising stage victory at the Giro, but the focus now is simply to rack up racing miles and use the week as a gauge for the rest of the spring.

If Sagan can find his feet then expect him to show his competitive edge, but the sensible mindset would be to allow the Slovak to mature into the race and use this as a barometer for the rest of the spring. Comparing him to the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel now are unfair. (DB)

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)

Age: 26

Reason to watch: He's the big box office draw

Mathieu van der Poel

The now iconic image of Van der Poel's Strade Bianche-winning attack (Image credit: Getty Images)

With the cycling world still reeling from the Dutchman's phenomenal display at Strade Bianche, Van der Poel returns to the 'Race of the Two Seas' six months on from what was then only his third WorldTour race win on stage 7.

Once again, Van der Poel has said he'll be looking at individual stage success rather than an overall challenge at a race which features a 14-kilometre summit finish on day four. As well as assisting sprinter Tim Merlier on the flatter stages, the tricky finish at Gualdo Tadino and hilly circuit at Lido di Fermo should be on his radar, while the tougher Castelfidardo stage can't be ruled out either.

With Milan-San Remo following four days after the end of the race, Van der Poel's gaze will certainly be fixed on La Classicisma and a second Monument victory. Rest assured, though, Van der Poel rides to win, so this will be no training race. (DO)

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)

Age: 30

Reason to watch: Gearing up for the Giro with less pressure

FAYENCE FRANCE FEBRUARY 20 Thibaut Pinot of France and Team Groupama FDJ during the 53rd Tour Des Alpes Maritimes Et Du Var Stage 2 a 1689km stage from Fayence to Fayence 357m letour0683 on February 20 2021 in Fayence France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Pinot racing at the Tour du Var in February (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Frenchman has been solid rather than spectacular so far this season as he continues to rebuild both his form and confidence after a disappointing 2020.

There are still murmurs of lingering injuries that were sustained last season, but Pinot now enters a key part of his campaign as he gears up for a return to the Giro d'Italia with a block of racing that includes Tirreno, the Tour of the Alps and then the Italian Grand Tour.

Away from the pressures that come with leading a team in his home race at the Tour, Pinot can hope to race with more freedom, but the quality within the Tirreno field will mean that there's no place to hide and that momentum will be key over the coming weeks. An incident-free opening few days before the climbs would be the ideal situation for the Frenchman. (DB)

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)

Age: 26

Reason to watch: Arguably the world's best at what he does

UAE Tour 2021

Ewan took his first win of 2021 at the UAE Tour (Image credit: Getty Images)

While it's an argument that can last all day, Ewan has a solid claim to the title of the world's best sprinter, and this season he's looking to prove it by racing – and winning – at all three Grand Tours.

Whether he can emulate­­ Alessandro Petacchi, Pierino Baffi, and Miguel Poblet in doing so remains to be seen, but this week he'll certainly be looking to continue the good vibes from his final stage victory at the UAE Tour, his fourth at that race. Meanwhile, the Australian heads to Tirreno looking for win number one in his third participation.

On paper, he looks the best bet to succeed on the flat opening stage, up against a winless Viviani, an uncertain Fernando Gaviria, the rusty Sagan and Van Aert, and the less-decorated Davide Ballerini. Ahead of Milan-San Remo – where he took second in 2018 – a win in Tirreno would be a confidence booster and confirmation of his good form. (DO)

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)

Age: 22

Reason to watch: A face-off against a healthy Bernal

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) wins stage 3 of the UAE Tour

Pogacar won the UAE Tour last month (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

After his 'crisis' at Strade Bianche, the Tour de France winner returns to more familiar surroundings and the world of stage racing. He's never competed in Tirreno-Adriatico before but after his sumptuous win in the UAE Tour he arrives at the race as the GC favourite.

The route looks ideal for him, although he might have wanted a slightly tougher profile, and there's a really solid team around him with Davide Formolo and Rafał Majka set to combine with the always-underrated Jan Polanc on the climbs. He's not been below sixth in a stage race he's started since April 2019, and that level of consistency will undoubtedly lead the Pogačar remaining in focus throughout the week. (DB)

Elia Viviani (Cofidis)

Age: 32

Reason to watch: Still looking for win number one at Cofidis

Team Cofidis rider Italys Elia Viviani looks on prior the start of the 10th stage of the Giro dItalia 2020 cycling race a 177kilometer route between Lanciano and Tortoreto on October 13 2020 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

Viviani at the 2020 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The small town of Senica, 35 kilometres from the Austro-Slovakian border, on September 21, 2019 – that was when Elia Viviani last won a bike race, his penultimate race day at Deceuninck-QuickStep. During his previous two seasons at the Belgian squad, he had looked like the best sprinter in the world, taking 28 wins – including eight Grand Tour stages – along the way.

Now, 74 race days at Cofidis later, Viviani heads to Tirreno more in need of a win than any other sprinter in the peloton. He has four podium spots to his name since moving squads, the latest of which came at the Palm Jumeirah at the UAE Tour, an impressive feat after undergoing heart surgery in January.

The week doesn't seem the ideal race to break such a duck, with the opening stage the only 100 per cent nailed-on sprint opportunity. Stage 3's run to finish in Gualdo Taldino features several uphill drags, while stage 5's Lido di Fermo circuit comes with a short climb. Both stages are rated a mere two stars by the organisers, but Viviani will be hoping to raise his arms at the end of the less complicated opening day. (DO)

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)

Age: 26

Reason to watch: Another installment in the battle against Van der Poel

Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma pictured after the Strade Bianche one day cycling race 184km from and to Siena Italy Saturday 06 March 2021 BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM Photo by DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images

Van Aert took fourth at his season debut at Strade Bianche (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

It was just one day, and fourth in Strade Bianche is far from a failure, but the manner in which the Belgian was cut adrift by the leaders, and most notably Van der Poel, will lead to doubt that that Belgian can defend his Milan-San Remo title.

To be blunt, even an all-firing Van Aert would have his work cut out trying to fend off Van der Poel in his current condition, but the next seven days give the Jumbo-Visma rider the chance to build on his training foundations. Strade Bianche, it’s worth remembering, was his first race this season, and riders can often struggle with the accelerations after time at altitude.

Maybe all Van Aert needs is a more racing in his legs. Maybe riding in Van der Poel’s shadow for the time being will allow him the time he needs to improve because, although Milan-San Remo is fast approaching, the rest of the spring campaign is still some way off. (DB)

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Age: 28

Reason to watch: A week of chances to take his first win in 2021

NINOVE BELGIUM FEBRUARY 27 Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep during the 76th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021 Mens Race a 2005km race from Ghent to Ninove Cobblestones OmloopHNB OHN21 FlandersClassic on February 27 2021 in Ninove Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Alaphilippe on the move at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Another in the generation of riders who can succeed at more or less anything they put their legs to, World Champion Alaphilippe heads to Tirreno seeking his first win of 2021. Second places at Provence and Strade Bianche have been tough, but the week offers a wealth of options for the Frenchman – including a bid for overall victory

On his debut back in 2019, he won two stages – an uphill sprint in Pomarance, and then on a flat finish in Jesi. This time, he likely won't be mixing it up with the likes of Ewan and Viviani on stage 1, but it's not hard to imagine him tasting victory on any of the remaining stages, though maybe not Fillippo Ganna's closing time trial.

Whether he or teammate João Almeida go for the blue jersey, it's a good bet that Alaphilippe will knock off his first win of the year ahead of a bid to retake Milan-San Remo the following weekend. (DO)

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.