Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Preview & Favorites

No offense towards Paris-Nice but this year Tirreno-Adriatico is the race to watch, should you only choose one of them. We have all big Tour de France favorites at the starting line and even though the Tour is far away, this could give us some important signs of what to expect in July.

It doesn't matter if you are a Spanish, Italian, Australian, German, British or African supporter. This race gives you a mix of all the best riders in the world and we get to make history as well. More on that in the preview.

The Stages:
Stage 1 - 16,9 km Team Time Trial. Same as last year.
Stage 2 - 232 km Sprint Stage. First dual between Cavendish & Greipel.
Stage 3 - 190 km Hilly Stage. Time for a break? Difficult to control for the sprinters’ teams.
Stage 4 - 173 km Mountain Stage. Same finish on Prati di Tivo (15 km / 7%) as last year.
Stage 5 - 230 km Hilly stage. Typical steep finish in Chieti.
Stage 6 - 209 Undulating Stage. Looks like a sprint stage but is nothing like it.
Stage 7 - 9,2 km Individual Time Trial. Same as last year.

The Favorites:
Looking at the start list there are at least six or seven riders with a real chance of winning this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. First up is Alberto Contador. This is one of the (very) few stage races Contador hasn’t won yet and he is eager to add Tirreno to his palmares. He wanted to come here and win last year, but ended up sidelined for the most of the season instead. Unlike the last couple of years, Contador is now very focused on not peaking before the Tour. He started out a couple of kilos heavier that normally and that was probably why he couldn’t shake the peloton as he normally does in Tour of Oman. I think Contador will be a lot better already and I would be surprised not to see him on the final podium.

My personal pick for the overall win is Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. This year Purito is set to peak in April - not in May like last year - and that means his shape is already very good. He showed in Oman that he’s stronger than the other favorites and with 10 bonus seconds on the line each day, I think Purito can make up for this poor time trial skills by winning in Chieti and probably on Prati di Tivo as well.  Purito is coming to Tirreno with big ambitions of winning the race overall and I doubt the other candidates will be able to drop him at any point.

Chris Froome seems to be preparing himself for the Tour de France the same way Bradley Wiggins did last year. He won Tour of Oman overall and with a strong team to protect him in Tirreno, he will be up there again. Still, it’s important to remember this is a very difficult race to control. Stage 4 is pretty straight forward but stage 5 and 6 are up and down the most of the day and Froome needs to keep a tight leash on Purito if he wants to win his second stage race of the season. Froome should be able to count on a strong time trial the last day, but unless he’s within 10-15 seconds of Purito I doubt it will be enough.

Last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali will be motivated to defend his title with number 1 on the back, but this year’s field is a lot stronger than last year and I doubt Nibali will be able to drop any of the three mentioned riders above. Astana bring a very strong team to look after him and Nibali and count on support from Tiralongo and Brajkovic in the mountains. Still that doesn’t help much if The Shark isn’t able to drop his rivals. Stage 3 and 6 could be two good opportunities for Nibali to put in a few surprise attacks on the undulating roads, but I’m sure I’m not the only one aware of that.

Cadel Evans started out his season in Tour of Oman and that in a very strong way. He distanced Contador and Nibali on Green Mountain and finished 3rd overall. Evans won Tirreno in 2011 and he has a super team for the opening TTT to help him get the perfect start. If everything works out perfectly for Evans and BMC on the team time trial, he could have a gap of up to 20-30 seconds on his rivals before Prati di Tivo and then he’ll be difficult to overtake. Evans knows the finish in Chieti very well too and even though I won’t pick him as my personal favorite, I won’t be surprised to see him win overall either.

The way I see it the five mentioned riders are the top favorites for this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico. Just behind these we’ll find riders like Samuel Sanchez, Bauke Mollema, Chris Horner and Damiano Cunego. All expected to do a great race too. Andy Schleck is here too, so just in case you don’t see him during the race, now you know.

It’s very difficult to point out a joker for top GC result with so many strong riders in the race. Still I would like to mention the young Cannondale talent Damiano Caruso. Caruso has been favorite of mine for quite some years now and he showed his strength last year in the Giro wearing the white jersey while supporting team leader Ivan Basso. This year Caruso will get more responsibility and after a good winter season and a strong training camp on Tenerife last month, he should be ready to try his luck. His main goals are the classics next month, but together with Moreno Moser, Caruso should be able to do well in the GC. Maybe even top10 overall.

For other outsiders look to in-shape Rinaldo Nocentini, Michal Kwiatkowski, Eros Capecchi and Mauro Santambrogio. And don’t forget Spanish climber Sergio Pardilla, riding for MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung. The African team are making their World Tour debut in Tirreno-Adriatico and while they may not be among the strongest in the team time trial, they are bringing very good riders in Pardilla and Gerald Ciolek. The German sprinter just won the last stage of Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen last weekend and he’s very eager to challenge Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel in the mass sprints. Sergio Pardilla will probably lose time in the two time trials, which minimizes his chancer overall, but he should be able to show off the African team’s colors on Prati di Tivo on stage 4.

The Sprinters:
This is not just a race with all the best GC riders, it’s also the first chance this year to see Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel go head-to-head in a mass sprint. Depending on how the stages evolve, stage 2 could be only opportunity to see the two super stars against each other, but don’t forget we also have Peter Sagan, Arnaud Demare, John Degenkolb, Tyler Farrar, Roberto Ferrari, Thor Hushovd, Francesco Chicchi, Matt Goss, Giacomo Nizzolo, Gerald Ciolek and many more sprinters in the race!

The trophy:
Tirreno-Adriatico is famous for its handcrafted trident shaped Sea Master trophy and it’s always entertaining to watch the trophy arise from the ocean and follow its way to the podium. Stefano Garzelli won the race overall in 2011 and told me afterwards that his son saw the podium ceremony on TV and wonderingly asked his mother: “Mama, where are we supposed to put that trophy?”

It seems like an impossible task to do, but I will try to make a pre-Top10 of this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico anyway. Remember, the first four riders all have an equal chance of winning the race. Here we go:

1. Purito
2. Contador
3. Evans
4. Froome
5. Nibali
6. Mollema
7. Horner
8. Samu
9. Cunego
10. Nocentini

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