Tirreno-Adriatico will be decided on Saturday's double climb of Monte Carpegna, in the northern part of the Le Marche region, with the climb made famous by Marco Pantani. The ascent is set to test Tadej Pogačar’s dominance and likely crown him as overall winner for a second year.
Pogačar is on near peak form after building his early season around the UAE Tour. He won his team’s home race for a second time after a duel with Adam Yates but then used his form to win Strade Bianche with a 50km solo attack.
He started Tirreno-Adriatico as the rider to beat and has ridden a near-perfect race that has left the likes of Remco Evenepoel admitting that he is better off riding for a podium spot than trying to topple the double Tour de France winner.
Pogačar was Cannibal-esque at Strade Bianche but has held back his attacks and so far ridden a more calculating race. That could all change on the double climb of the Carpegna.
The 215km stage will be a hard day out
It is divided into two parts. The stage starts inland in Apecchio and for 170km undulates all the way down to the coast and then a gradual climb back inland for the first passage of the finish line in the village of Carpegna.
The second part of the stages can be seen looking up to the 1415m peak. The final 45km include two circuits of the Cippo di Carpegna, offering a double dose of climbing and pain.
The Carpegna climb where Marco Pantani liked to test his form before major races is only six kilometres long but it is especially steep. He used to convince a local teammate to ride from Cesenatico on the Romagna coast deep inland to the Carpegna. It is a 65km ride from the coast and Pantani used the steep slopes of the Carpegna to test his form before his biggest goals.
While other riders went to altitude camps or rode the highest climbs of the Tour de France route in the Alps and Pyrenees, Pantani pronounced the famous phrase: “il Carpegna mi basta” - I only need the Carpegna.
Monte Carpegna is a pure climber’s playground
The opening kilometre climbs at 7.2 per cent and then the gradient steepens to 10.4 per cent for the remaining five kilometres. It also twists and turns frequently with a number of hairpins, before reaching the 1,415-metre high summit.
There is no mountain top finish atop the Carpegna due to the risk of snow and bad weather in March. However, it is climbed twice and the descent to the finish in the village below is said to be testing and on rough roads. It could create bigger time differences than the climb itself.
Pogačar was born just a few months after Pantani won the Giro-Tour double in 1998 but he is aware of the significance of the climb. He could decide to attack on the second climb of the Carpegna and put on a show as he did at Strade Bianche and as Pantani did during his own career.
"Unfortunately I didn't see Pantani race live, I was too young. But I know of him and I’ve seen the videos. Thank God for Youtube," Pogačar said in admiration.
"Tomorrow is his climb and it's a pretty tough one. I’m looking forward to racing on this climb. It's going to be a fantastic day of racing."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.