Three top riders on GC are separated by six seconds ahead of final-day time trial

OFFIDA, Italy (VN) — Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) will be in the pole position for Tuesday’s down-to-the-wire time trial battle for victory in Tirreno-Adriatico. The American was confident leaving Offida, but so too were his top rivals, separated by just a handful of seconds.

Horner defended his race leader’s jersey in Monday’s rollercoaster circuit course into Offida, but saw GC threat Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) score a six-second, second-place time bonus to bring the seven-day WorldTour race down to seconds for tomorrow’s 9.3km individual time trial.

Horner will have the advantage of starting last, with a five-second head start to Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and now just six seconds to Nibali.

“I’ve made no mistakes,” Horner said when asked if it was dangerous to allow Nibali to reduce the difference from 34 seconds after stage 4 to just six going into Tuesday’s finale.

“The tactics dictate the race,” Horner said. “Kreuziger is the bigger threat I believe. We’ll see tomorrow if I am right. So far, the race has been perfect for me to keep my leader’s jersey.”

Things couldn’t be tighter on GC, with Horner relishing the chance to become the first American to ever win what’s considered the most important Italian stage race behind the Giro d’Italia.

“When I am on good form, I can usually do well in time trials, even win them. I’m on good form now,” Horner said. “It’s not a surprise for me to be here now. I’ve won the Basque Country tour and California last year. My only doubt was whether my embolism in the lung would affect my performance. I knew where I was in training; I knew I would be good.”

With the differences just a few ticks of the clock, it’s difficult to say who will be the favorite to claim the overall title.

Horner said that he believes all three riders are more or less on the same level. He said he hasn’t studied the route, though the out-and-back course along the Adriatic coast shouldn’t present too many challenges.

“It looks dead-flat and I will just give 100 percent,” Horner said. “It’ll be close for sure. Kreuziger and I are very close on the time trial bike and I only have a five-second lead. I think the time trial can go either way.”

Kreuziger also finished in the elite, 11-man group Monday to keep his GC hopes alive. At just five seconds, the Czech rider knows his chances are good to pull off the win.

“The race is not finished. I have done a lot of work on the time trial bike, so I think I can do well,” Kreuziger said. “I have confidence. I think it’s too close to call.”

Nibali was the day’s big winner, clawing back six seconds on GC that could prove decisive in Tuesday’s short, 9.4km race. Just six seconds down on Horner, he needs to erase less than one second per kilometer, something more realistic than taking back 12 seconds in the same distance.

“It will be a true ‘race of truth,’” Nibali said at the finish line. “It was important to take the time bonus. I was hoping to win the stage, but Rodriguez surprised us. Six seconds is better than 12. We are more or less even on time. Whoever has the best legs tomorrow will win. It’s going to be close.”

Horner, meanwhile, said he’s going to give his absolute best to try to secure the GC. It would be a huge victory in his first race since crashing out of the Tour de France last summer and later suffering from a blood clot in his lung.

“I was sitting on the couch for eight months, so it’s very nice to be back to racing,” Horner said. “I watched the Tour from the couch, the Vuelta, Lombardia. I had to watch a lot of races from the couch and I saw a lot of good results disappear from the couch. It’s very nice to be back.”