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Tirreno-Adriatico preview: Two seas and many ways to win

2008 Tirreno-Adriatico, Fabian Cancellara and Andy Schleck
In 2008, Cancellara (here leading Andy Schleck on the final stage) won the T-A time trial and the overall, and then won San Remo

ROME (VN) — Take two time trials and split them with two days for the sprinters and another three in the mountains, two of them at 240km each, and you get a new-look Tirreno-Adriatico. The race of the two seas opens Wednesday and many of the top classics riders and Tour de France and Giro d’Italia contenders are set for a showdown in the heart of Italy.

Tirreno-Adriatico is traditionally the final preparation for the classics riders aiming for the season’s first one-day monument, Milan-San Remo. With hellish back-to-back days in the middle of a tough week, the kilometers in Tuscany have proven a fountain of fast legs for La Primavera. Mark Cavendish (2009) and Fabian Cancellara (2008) are among the most recent riders to pull a stage win in the week leading up to their wins on the Mediterranean coast.

George Hincapie told VeloNews last week that he enjoys the long days, if for no other reason than how his legs feel a few days later on the Cipressa. It was Hincapie who delivered Cavendish to the finish with the front group for his surprise first classic win.

This year, Giro organizer RCS Sport retains the long, saw-blade profile days, but an opening team time trial along the Tuscany coast in Marina di Carrara and a closing prologue-style ITT (Editor’s note: an epilogue?) along the Adriatic in San Benedetto del Tronto have Tour favorites Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso on the start list with the bulk of their likely Tour squads. It’s early for the Tour heavyweights, however, and they will likely take a back seat to the rouleurs, sprinters and motivated Italian climbers like Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas). The Liquigas squad has excelled at the team time trial in recent years and should be motivated in the tour’s opener.

Stages 2 and 6 are ripe for the bunch finishers’ picking. With relatively mild profiles and final challenges far from the line, the leadout trains should have an opportunity to turn on the steam.

2009 Tirreno-Adriatico: Tyler Farrar wins stage
Farrar outkicked Cavendish at T-A in 2009

Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) got the better of Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) here for the first time in 2009. Garmin will have two weapons with world champion Thor Hushovd in the lineup, likely to act as a late protagonist to break up the organization in the run-in to Indicatore and Perugia. Cavendish earned his first win of the year at the Tour of Oman two weeks ago and will look to kickstart his hopeful grand tour triple against Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank).

Stefano Garzelli (Aqua & Sapone) is the defending overall champion and will be among the riders mindful of a big split when the road tilts up in stage 4. The bulk of the day’s climbing, which tops out on the 990-meter Sella di Corno, is early, but a tricky, uphill finish in Chieti after 240km could be enough to erase any deficit suffered in Carrara.

45th Tirreno-Adriatico stages

Stage 1: Marina di Carrara TTT; 16.8km
Stage 2: Carrara-Indicatore-Arezzo; 202km
Stage 3: Terranuova Bracciolini-Perugia; 188km
Stage 4: Narni-Chieti; 240km
Stage 5: Chieti-Castelraimondo; 240km
Stage 6: Ussita-Macerata; 178km
Stage 7: San Benedetto del Tronto ITT; 9.3km

The always decisive Sasso Tetto looms on the fifth day and its winding ramps should carry a devastated peloton almost 1,000 vertical meters to the summit before riders plummet down to the Camerino and Gagliole climbs en route to Castelraimondo. Unlike the last couple years, the highpoint of the tour comes 85km from the finish. Despite that distance, the 14km climb is such that a group of riders could, particularly without radios and if the weather is poor, find themselves flying toward a group sprint after another 240km day.

A transition stage on the tour’s penultimate day ends with a sharp, uphill finale in Macerata. The 178km contest closes with a series of brief, two-stepped climbs, including 2.5 finish circuits over the town’s narrow, serpentine cobbles. The power men like Monte Paschi Eroica top-two Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) should have their day on the leg-breaking ramps.

From short and steep to short and pancake flat, the final-stage time trial will likely be more of a contest for the stage win than the overall. Cancellara has had a slow start to 2011, but has been untouchable on these courses for half a decade.

2011 Tour of Qatar prologue, winner Lars Boom
Tour of Qatar prologue winner Lars Boom could be a favorite for the Tirreno-Adriatico final time trial

Tour of Qatar prologue winner Lars Boom (Rabobank) will hope to survive the week and lay down another blistering ride and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be as hard to beat as usual. A stage win here could be the perfect foreshadow — and opener for — the weekend ahead.

The 45th Tirreno-Adriatico is perhaps more than ever a microcosm of an all-Tuscan grand tour. With days for bunch kicks, opportunists, climbers and TT specialists, it’s likely that no day will be the same as the previous. With so many options, it’s likely that we may well see the eventual winner of La Primavera raising his arms somewhere in the heart of Italy this week.

Editor’s note: Brian Holcombe and VeloNews photo director Brad Kaminski are in Italy and will be providing full coverage of Tirreno-Adriatico this week. Watch for their updates on Twitter.com/velonewslive

2006 Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 6
2006 Tirreno-Adriatico, stage 6 (Click this image to see it full-size)

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