Analysis
The swath of Italian soil separating San Vincenzo...

Preview: Tirreno-Adriatico serves grand tour, classics antipasti

With ingredients like Froome Dog, Shark, Spartacus, and Terminator, Italy's stage race is a delicious first course for March


MILAN (VN) — It doesn’t boast the richest history, but Tirreno-Adriatico, which opens in western Italy on Wednesday, promises to be the biggest stage race on the European calendar in March. Grand tour stars Chris Froome (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) will contend for the overall, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) will fight over the sprints, and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will target everything in between.

Over the last few years, the race has changed directions, offering an individual time trial and bigger mountains, in the process becoming the March race of choice for grand tour riders. On top of the terrain and stages, compared to its French cousin Paris-Nice, which opened Sunday, “The Race of the Two Seas” enjoys better weather.

The seven-stage race, this year running March 6 to 12, is ideal for sprinters as well. Cavendish and Greipel will see their much-anticipated 2013 duel open, while Vuelta a España five-stage winner John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) will look to get in on the action as well. The last stage, a short, power rider’s time trial, drops them off only five days before Milano-Sanremo. While Simon Gerrans and Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) rode to “La Classicissima” wins through Paris-Nice in 2012 and 2011, respectively, Tirreno has produced seven Sanremo winners in the last 10 years.

The five-day break ahead of Sanremo is one more than usual, with the season’s first monument moving from Saturday to Sunday, but Tirreno is also a favorite preparation race for classics riders like Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard). “Spartacus” won the overall in 2008 en route to his Sanremo victory and will anchor RadioShack’s team time trial unit on day one. Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Luca Paolini (Katusha) will each be at the start.

“Tirreno-Adriatico is the best for me with the big classics like Sanremo coming up,” said Cancellara.

The Swiss came on strong at Strade Bianche over the weekend, finishing fourth behind Moreno Moser (Cannondale) and Sagan, who went one-two. Tirreno should serve as more antipasto to an expected match-up between the Slovak champion and Cancellara over the next month.

“On paper there are many chances to take a win,” said Sagan. “My goal for this Tirreno-Adriatico is a stage win and to improve my form before Milano-Sanremo. I feel good and confirmed that at Strade Bianche. We have a strong team and are able to be among the best. And then, there’s Moser: we’ll join forces and form a competitive duo in different stages.”

Cutting across central Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the country’s west coast to the Adriatic Sea on the east coast, celebrates just its 48th edition this season. It lacks the history of Paris-Nice, but makes up for it this year in quality field.

The GC riders chose Tirreno this year to get the high mountains with a stage to the Prati di Tivo ski station at 1450 meters, the tricky stages in Le Marche and Abruzzo, and the possibility of adding a prestigious title to their palmares.

Looking down the list, many of cycling’s stars have taken the overall win, from six-time winner Roger de Vlaeminck to Francesco Moser, Maurizio Fondriest to Michele Bartoli.

Let’s also not forget that the golden trident trophy is up for grabs. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) tried to pin down a few journalists with the massive, three-pronged trophy after he won the title in 2011.

When Nibali won the race on the last day in 2012, he compared its importance to his grand tour victory.

“Given the high-quality field and feelings of winning my biggest Italian stage race yet, this is up there on level with my Vuelta a España win,” he said.

Nibali will face an even higher quality field this week when he faces off against the likes of Froome, Contador, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma).

Froome, supported by American neo-pro Joe Dombrowski, will enter the race as favorito numero uno.

“It’s another race to go through the process of going in with a plan,” Froome said in Oman. “We’ll ride in a similar manner.”

Sky will enter with a plan, but the roads through the Apennine Mountains will give us the final decision on who’s hot and who’s not. The time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto on the final day will fine-tune the GC and produce the newest keeper of the trident. Or, as organizers are calling him in 2013, the “Sea Master.”

The route

The 168 riders will face a similar route to last year’s edition. Time trials bookend the race, two sprint stages appear early on and three mountain stages — two high and one medium — weigh down the back-end of the seven-day affair.

The time trials are nearly identical to the 2012 edition: a 16.9-kilometer team version in San Vincenzo to kick off the race and a 9.2km individual test on the final day in San Benedetto del Tronto. Between, the race weaves its way through Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo, and Le Marche.

Slicing through Italy’s heartland, Tirreno-Adriatico travels over some of the most stunning countryside on the peninsula. As such, the sprinters are limited to two stages. By the weekend, it will be all business for the GC men and all-round stage hunters like Sagan.

The major GC romp will occur over the 14.5 kilometers leading to the Prati di Tivo ski station. The road tops out at 1450 meters and offers a stunning view of the 2912-meter Gran Sasso. Nibali won the stage last year, paving the way for his overall win over Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) in San Benedetto del Tronto.

The 2013 vintage will follow the same script, but with a twist. This year, Prati di Tivo comes a day earlier. The two following days, the stage to Chieti and Porto Sant’Elpidio, offer plenty of chances to stake claim for the overall. The Porto Sant’Elpidio circuit, for example, is like a saw blade. It never rises over 250 meters, but the road travels over what Italians call colline spacca-gambe or leg-breaking hills.

Stay close in the TTT, attack to Prati di Tivo, survive those tortuous late stages, and defend in San Benedetto del Tronto — that is the path to Neptune’s Trident trophy.

48th Tirreno-Adriatico
Stage 1: Wednesday, March 6, San Vincenzo — Donoratico (16.9km)
Stage 2: Thursday, March 7, San Vincenzo — Indicatore (232km)
Stage 3: Friday, March 8, Indicatore — Narni Scalo (190km)
Stage 4: Saturday, March 9, Narni — Prati di Tivo (173km)
Stage 5: Sunday, March 10, Ortona — Chieti (230km)
Stage 6: Monday, March 11, Porto Sant’Elpidio — Porto Sant’Elpidio (209km)
Stage 7: Tuesday, March 12, San Benedetto del Tronto (9.2km)

The favorites

Chris Froome (Sky) ★★★★★ The Brit arrives fresh from his Tour of Oman win. His GC victory was made all the more impressive by who was behind him. Not only did he win the Middle East stage race — his first as a professional — but he also left the likes of Contador, Nibali, and Evans behind.

He rides again as Sky’s team leader and paves his way towards the Tour de France. A win here would further underline his status as a favorite in July. Backup will be important, however. “Froome Dog” can rely on Joe Dombrowski, Dario Cataldo, and the Colombian duo of Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Henao.

Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) ★★★★ The grand tour great started his season fighting, winning a stage in the Tour de San Luís and pushing Froome to the edge in Oman. The duel between the Spaniard and Kenya-born Brit on the penultimate day of the latter made for thrilling racing.

The Spaniard is expected to bring his same A-game to Italy. Unlike Froome, he’s won grand tours before. Missing the spring of 2012 during his ban for a clenbuterol positive at the 2010 Tour, Contador hasn’t officially won a week-long stage race since the 2010 Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) ★★★★ The defending champion does not look quite as brilliant as he did at this point last year. With his new team and his Giro d’Italia aim, the Nibali seems to be taking a different approach. Being on top form in early March would be a sign of trouble for the season’s first grand tour, now just two months away.

The confidence and experience he gained in dealing with Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Horner in 2012 will help the Sicilian. “I’m trying to improve and improve towards the Giro,” Nibali said last month. “If I can pull off a win, we’d all be happy.”

Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ★★★ World TT champion Tony Martin conquered the Volta ao Algarve last month using his combined time trial and climbing strength.

Tirreno-Adriatico offers plenty of time trial kilometers for Martin to stake his claim for the overall. As he showed in Algarve, he is more than capable of managing himself in the mountains. For the German, it will be a matter of limiting his losses to Froome and the other climbers at Prati di Tivo and on the steep ramps later in the week.

Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) ★★★ The Spaniard used to come to Tirreno for the Montelupone climb. He won it two times. He now lines up in these stages races with a real chance to win the overall. Rodríguez climbed well in Oman, where, thankfully for him, there were no time trials. He’ll suffer against the clock in Tirreno, but perhaps pull off a podium finish.

Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) ★★★ Despite age, the Aussie seems to be coming on well. He proved in Oman that he was busy in his long, six-month off-season. Don’t expect him to match his 2011 result, but a stage win and top five could be in the works as he edges closer to July.

Others to watch

Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) ★★
Moreno Moser (Cannondale) ★★
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) ★★
Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) ★
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) ★

Americans

Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing)
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp)
Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard)
Joe Dombrowski (Sky)

How to follow in North America

VeloNews’ Lecco, Italy-based contributor Gregor Brown will be on the ground from wire-to-wire for daily coverage from the WorldTour’s third race of the season. For all things Tirreno-Adriatico, visit our race page. Follow Brown on Twitter @gregorbrown, and VeloNews @VeloNews.

U.S./Canada TV listings:
N/A

Notable social media:
Twitter hashtag: #tirreno
Race Twitter: @TirrenoAdriatico
Facebook: Tirreno-Adriatico
Instagram: #tirrenoadriatico

Live web video links:
Cyclingfans.com
Steephill.tv

Race website:
Gazzetta.it

Race ticker:
N/A

Startlist

Astana
1. NIBALI Vincenzo
2. GRUZDEV Dmitriy
3. VANOTTI Alessandro
4. BRAJKOVIC Janez
5. KESSIAKOFF Fredrik Carl W.
6. MURAVYEV Dmitriy
7. TIRALONGO Paolo
8. AGNOLI Valerio
DS SHEFER Alexandr

Ag2r La Mondiale
11. NOCENTINI Rinaldo
12. BELLETTI Manuel
13. BETANCUR GOMEZ Carlos A.
14. CHAINEL Steve
15. GASTAUER Ben
16. GEORGES Sylvain
17. MONTAGUTI Matteo
18. POZZOVIVO Domenico
DS MAS Gilles

Blanco
21. SLAGTER Tom Jelte
22. BOOM Lars
23. MARTENS Paul
24. MOLLEMA Bauke
25. NORDHAUG Lars Petter
26. TANKINK Bram
27. VANMARCKE Sep
28. WYNANTS Maarten
DS DEKKER Erik

BMC Racing
31. EVANS Cadel
32. HUSHOVD Thor
33. LODEWYCK Klaas
34. PHINNEY Taylor
35. SANTAROMITA Ivan
36. QUINZIATO Manuel
37. SCHÄR Michael
38. VAN AVERMAET Greg
DS BALDATO Fabio

Cannondale
41. SAGAN Peter
42. MOSER Moreno
43. CARUSO Damiano
44. BODNAR Maciej
45. DALL’ANTONIA Tiziano
46. KOREN Kristjan
47. MARANGONI Alan
48. SABATINI Fabio
DS SCIREA Mario

Euskaltel-Euskadi
51. SANCHEZ GONZALEZ Samuel
52. AZANZA SOTO Jorge
53. BRAVO OIARBIDE Garikoitz
54. GARCIA AMBROA Ricardo
55. MARTINEZ DE ESTEBAN Egoi
56. MINGUEZ AYALA Miguel
57. TAMOURIDIS Ioannis
58. VRECER Robert
DS GERRIKAGOITIA Gorka

FDJ
61. BONNET William
62. CASAR Sandy
63. FISCHER Murilo Antonio
64. OFFREDO Yoann
65. ROLLIN Dominique
66. ROUX Anthony
67. VAUGRENARD Benoit
68. VICHOT Arthur
DS GAYANT Martial

Garmin-Sharp
71. DEKKER Thomas
72. DENNIS Rohan
73. FARRAR Tyler
74. HUNTER Robert
75. MARTIN Daniel
76. NAVARDAUSKAS Ramunas
77. NUYENS Nick
78. ROSSELER Sébastien
DS WEGELIUS Charly

Katusha
81. GUSEV Vladimir
82. ISAICHEV Vladimir
83. KOLOBNEV Alexandr
84. VICIOSO ARCOS Angel
85. KUSCHYNSKI Aleksandr
86. MORENO FERNANDEZ Daniel
87. PAOLINI Luca
88. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin
DS PIVA Valerio

Lampre-Merida
91. BONO Matteo
92. FERRARI Roberto
93. CUNEGO Damiano
94. FAVILLI Elia
95. NIEMIEC Przemyslaw
96. MALORI Adriano
97. PIETROPOLLI Daniele
98. POZZATO Filippo
DS BONTEMPI Fabrizio

Lotto-Belisol
101. DOCKX Gert
102. GREIPEL André
103. HANSEN Adam
104. HENDERSON Gregory
105. KAISEN Olivier
106. ROELANDTS Jurgen
107. SIEBERG Marcel
108. VANENDERT Jelle
DS FRISON Herman

Movistar
111. AMADOR BIKKAZAKOVA Andrey
112. CAPECCHI Eros
113. CASTROVIEJO Nicolas Jonathan
114. COBO ACEBO Juan Jose
115. INTXAUSTI ELORRIAGA Benat
116. LASTRAS GARCIA Pablo
117. VENTOSO ALBERDI Francisco J.
118. VISCONTI Giovanni
DS GARCIA Jose Vicente

MTN-Qhubeka
121. CIOLEK Gerald
122. DEBESAY ABRHA Ferekalsi
123. KONOVALOVAS Ignatas
124. NIYONSHUTI Adrien
125. PARDILLA BELLON Sergio
126. STAUFF Andreas
127. THOMSON Jay Robert
128. VENTER Jacobus
DS ZEMKE Jens

Omega Pharma-Quick Step
131. CAVENDISH Mark
132. GRABSCH Bert
133. KWIATKOWSKI Michal
134. MAES Nikolas
135. MARTIN Tony
136. STYBAR Zdenek
137. TERPSTRA Niki
138. TRENTIN Matteo
DS BRAMATI Davide

Orica-GreenEdge
141. GOSS Matthew Harley
142. DOCKER Mitchell
143. IMPEY Daryl
144. LANCASTER Brett
145. LANGEVELD Sebastian
146. MOURIS Jens
147. O’GRADY Stuart
148. TUFT Svein
DS ALGERI Vittorio

RadioShack-Leopard
151. CANCELLARA Fabian
152. DEVOLDER Stijn
153. HONDO Danilo
154. HORNER Christopher
155. NIZZOLO Giacomo
156. POPOVYCH Yaroslav
157. RAST Grégory
158. ROULSTON Hayden
DS ANDERSEN Kim

Sky
161. CATALDO Dario
162. DOMBROWSKI Joseph Lloyd
163. FROOME Christopher
164. HENAO MONTOYA Sergio Luis
165. KENNAUGH Peter
166. KNEES Christian
167. PUCCIO Salvatore
168. URAN URAN Rigoberto
DS LJUNGQVIST Marcus

Argos-Shimano
171. DE BACKER Bert
172. DEGENKOLB John
173. DUMOULIN Tom
174. FRÖHLINGER Johannes
175. GESCHKE Simon
176. SINKELDAM Ramon
177. SPRICK Matthieu
178. TIMMER Albert
DS VISBEEK Aike

NetApp-Endura
181. BARTA Jan
182. BENEDETTI Cesare
183. CAMANO ORTUZAR Iker
184. DE LA CRUZ MELGAREJO David
185. HUZARSKI Bartosz
186. KOENIG Leopold
187. PIMENTA COSTA MENDES José J.
188. SCHORN Daniel
DS POITSCHKE Enrico

Saxo-Tinkoff
191. CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto
192. BENNATI Daniele
193. HERNANDEZ BLAZQUEZ Jesus
194. BOARO Manuele
195. TOSATTO Matteo
196. ROGERS Michael
197. MAJKA Rafal
198. MOREIRA PAULINHO Sergio M.
DS MAUDIUT Philippe

Vacansoleil-DCM
201. BOLE Grega
202. FLECHA GIANNONI Juan Antonio
203. LAGUTIN Sergey
204. MARCATO Marco
205. MARCZYNSKI Tomasz
206. POELS Wouter
207. RUIJGH Rob
208. SELVAGGI Mirko
DS CORNELISSE Michel

Vini Fantini-Selle Italia
211. GATTO Oscar
212. CHICCHI Francesco
213. FINETTO Mauro
214. HULSMANS Kevin
215. PRONI Alessandro
216. RABOTTINI Matteo
217. SANTAMBROGIO Mauro
218. TABORRE Fabio
DS SCINTO Luca