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Tirreno-Adriatico preview: Tour de France foundations and Milano-Sanremo dreams begin next week

Quick Guide: What you need to know ahead of a week of Italian racing that welcomes Pogačar, Carapaz, Sagan, Thomas, Kuss and more.

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It’s not got the long history, howling crosswinds, or Alpine finales of Paris-Nice, but Tirreno-Adriatico does have grippy roads, lots of climbs, better coffee, and an awesome trident trophy.

The Italian stage race is rapidly leveling with its French rival as the go-to choice for GC racers and classification contenders looking for a tough early test, and this year is no different.

The start list is not yet fully confirmed, but Tadej Pogačar should be back to defend his title and Richard Carapaz, Geraint Thomas, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel, and Miguel Ángel López are slated to be there to make things difficult for him.

Also read: Pogačar continues Mercxian streak at Tirreno-Adriatico 

Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe, Sepp Kuss, and Caleb Ewan are other headline names that have been tipped to be racing “between two seas” from Monday next week.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 Tirreno-Adriatico.

The route: Hills, hills, long stages … and some sprints

Racing rolls out of the beach resort of Lido di Camaiore on Monday 7 with a 14km time trial that will open the legs but not do enough to open up the classification.

Tirreno has become known for long, hilly stages that should belong in April’s Ardennes, and 2022 plays by the script. Some 14,000 meters of climbing and 1,100km of racing are packed into the six days following Monday’s TT.

Stages 2 and 4 both stack a swathe of lumps and bumps into 200km+ of racing that makes for the perfect pre-classics prep for riders like Alaphilippe or Sagan.

Stage 4 could see the first classification shakeup, with RCS serving up a finishing circuit that includes the leg-sapping Bellante climb and its 11 percent pitches. The Bellante summit finish should see the first significant shift in who wears the blue leader’s jersey.

If stage 4 doesn’t cause chaos, stages 5 and 6 will do the damage.

Another hard hilly finish on stage 5 will give a leg-loosener ahead of the race’s mountain stage on stage 6 next Saturday stage. A double ascent of the Monte Carpegna — notoriously favored by Marco Pantani — arrives in the final 40km before a madcap descent to the line.

Also read: Carpegna to play kingmaker in 2022 Tirreno-Adriatico

And the sprinters? Ewan, Arnaud Démare, Tim Merlier and Co. will have the flat finishes of stages 2, 3 and 7 in their sights, and Milano-Sanremo in their minds.

(Photo: RCS Sport)

Here’s what to watch:

Tour de France dreams or realities

Tour de France organizers ASO will be fuming. Almost all the top contenders for this summer’s Tour have bypassed its Paris-Nice race and are headed toward Italy instead this month.

Primož Roglič is the one top GC racer to keep things French as he returns to Paris-Nice to banish his demons from last year’s race.

Last year, Pogačar’s season-long blitz was founded in victories at the UAE Tour and Tirreno. Judging by how well Pogačar went in the dunes and diesel climbs of the Emirati race last week, another Tirreno trident trophy could be his this year too – and it may mark a portent of things to come in the summer.

Riders like Vingegaard, Thomas, and López will be Pogačar’s main opposition in Italy next week and will be again at the Tour. Although July is still four months away, Tirreno may show how much threat they could pose to Pogačar’s reign on the yellow jersey.

Jumbo-Visma double-threat: Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard

Kuss and Vingegaard both got off to hot starts in France last weekend, with Vingegaard winning the Drôme Classic and Kuss lighting up the Ardèche to finish third.

Vingegaard will likely be in charge of his team at Tirreno, but Kuss has been slated for his own leadership opportunities later down the line should he show the form. Can Kuss carry his Ardèche momentum into Tirreno and earn himself a big GC break later in Spring?

Jumbo-Visma’s two climbing aces will again team up at the Tour, where they will be marking squad leader Roglič’s wheel. Tirreno will give a hint at whether the Dutch team’s double-threat has the horsepower to help keep Pogačar within arm’s reach come July.

Pogo vs Remco

Two of the hottest young talents locked into a race for GC? Yes, please.

Pogačar and Evenepoel have never squared off against each other in a stage race – until now. Sure, double Tour de France champ Pogačar is likely to top his Belgian junior, but it sure will be a battle to watch.

Pogačar and Evenepoel have been pro for four years but followed totally different arcs. Evenepoel lost a year to injury, Pogačar has been unhindered and unstoppable since day one.

Evenepoel is back to his best and on an early-season tear after blazing through Valenciana and Algarve last month. If the 22-year-old Belgian is in the same league as the 23-year-old Slovenian, Tirreno will be the place to make the best comparison.

Sagan’s ‘opening weekend’ anonymity

That’s right, Peter Sagan was at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne last week, but it would have been easy to miss. The Slovak supremo was well off the pace and out the back early in the spring’s two curtain-raisers and was far from his former monument-mastering self.

A bout with COVID in January and a whole new team to bed-in with means it was inevitable Sagan was suffering at the “opening weekend.”

But with big goals to meet and a bigger contract to fulfill, Sagan will need to start turning things on in Tirreno to hit form in time to take TotalEnergies to the top of the classics.

The march toward Milan-San Remo

There’s a direct path between Tirreno’s coastal finish line and the city-center start of Milano-Sanremo on March 19.

Only six days separate the two, and riders like Alaphilippe, Pogačar, and Ewan will see a week of stage-racing as a perfect tune-up for the longest race of the year.

Who’s hot and who’s not in the last block of racing before the monument showdown in Sanremo? Watch Tirreno to find out.