Tirreno-Adriatico 2019 – Preview

While this year's Paris-Nice has attracted the bulk of the Grand Tour contenders and the world's best sprinters, Tirreno-Adriatico instead appeals to the Classics specialists and puncheurs, who will use the succession of hilly stages through central Italy to prepare for Milan-San Remo.

As well as a litany of climbs that mimic the challenges of La Classicissima's Cipressa and Poggio, the route includes the steep muri around Recanati, but the 2019 'Race of the Two Seas' breaks with recent tradition and will not feature a mountaintop finish in the Apennines.

Last year's winner, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), has decided to forgo defending his title and has instead plumped for this week's significantly hillier Paris-Nice. Tirreno has attracted the likes of Kwiatkowski's teammate and 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, as well as likely Giro d'Italia contender Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). Both riders will relish the opening team time trial and the concluding individual time trial, but there's nothing ever really tough enough over the race's seven days to suggest they'll be able to gain much of an advantage over the rest.

Indeed, this year's race has Greg Van Avermaet's name written all over it, and the CCC Team leader will be hoping to use the race to hone his form for the Classics that are to come in late March and early April.

The Belgian is a former Tirreno winner, too, having taken the 2016 title in a year when the race's only true mountain stage was cancelled due to snow, giving the remainder of the race an extremely similar flavour to this 2019 edition.

Van Avermaet took the title – as well as victory on the penultimate stage – by just a single second from Peter Sagan, with QuickStep's Bob Jungels third. Bora-Hansgrohe leader Sagan is returning to action both after taking a break from racing for most of February but also after illness over the past week, and so it may take a few days before he's back to full health and strength.

Deceuninck-QuickStep are also well-armed for both overall victory and stage wins, boasting both recent Strade Bianche winner Julian Alaphilippe and sprinter extraordinaire Elia Viviani, who must surely fancy hoovering up a win or two.

And ignore the frankly flying Astana team at your peril. The Kazakh squad arrive in Italy with the on-form Jakob Fuglsang and man-of-the-moment Alexey Lutsenko, who will both be looking to mix things up on the muri.

The route

Starting out with what has become a traditional team time trial at Lido di Camaiore, a teams' pecking order will be established immediately, and may well fall in favour of Team Sky (with Thomas), Jumbo Visma (with Roglic) CCC Team (with Van Avermaet), or perhaps for Bahrain-Merida, who boast time trial world champion Rohan Dennis and last year's Milan-San Remo winner Vincenzo Nibali in their ranks.

Nibali, though, is yet to hit his stride this season, but will arrive as a two-time Tirreno champion, having won back in 2012 and 2013.

Stage 2, with its explosive finale in Pomarance, should immediately show who the candidates for the overall honours are likely to be, while stage 3 to Foligno is the race's longest at 226 kilometres, and will go some way to preparing the riders for the 291 kilometres that make up the route of Milan-San Remo, which comes just four days after the conclusion of Tirreno.

The climb of I Capuccini provides a springboard for attackers in the finale of stage 4 to Fossombrone, while stages 5 and 6 appear likely to be the two toughest days in terms of climbing, but feature nothing that the likes of Van Avermaet and three-time world champion Sagan won't be able to handle.

The fifth stage between Colli Al Metauro and Recanati includes three ascents of the short but sharp Muro di San Pietro, which includes a 20 per cent section to get the riders' legs burning on the finishing circuit of the stage.

The principal difficulty the next day comes early on in the 195km run between Matelica and Jesi with the Valico di Pietra Rossa, which, at 660 metres, is the highest point of this year's race. Providing the sprinters can get over this longer, 15km climb, the finish in Jesi should suit them.

The race is then rounded out with a 10.1km individual time trial around San Benedetto del Tronto. As well as claiming the striking trident trophy, the overall winner is also likely to have added his name to the list of favourites for Milan-San Remo.

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