Tirreno-Adriatico only race to attract top four Tour favorites

The Italian stage race has reason to celebrate its 50th edition, with Nibali, Contador, Quintana, and Froome all slated to test their form

Tirreno-Adriatico succeeded in doing what only the Tour de France could do, attracting the top four grand tour cyclists for its 2015 edition, March 11 to 17.

Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) — winners of 11 grand tours in total — planned their schedules to be ready for Tour de France. Only once will their paths cross along the way, in Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico.

The Corsa dei Due Mari, or Race of the Two Seas, starts in Tuscany’s Camaiore with a 22.7-kilometer team time trial and ends on Italy’s east coast in San Benedetto del Tronto with a individual TT of 10 kilometers.

In between, the race will finish on flat roads in three of its days, cover the medium mountains to Castelraimondo, and climb to Monte Terminillo.

Race organizer RCS Sport has kept with its winning menu that it introduced in 2006, when it brought in an individual time trial and mountain stage to attract grand tour favorites to the weeklong stage race.

Sprinter Oscar Freire won in 2005 and closed out a period where sprinters and the classics men ruled the roads between the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. They would win the flat stage and gobble up the bonus sprints on the other days to take home the overall win. The race would also highlight the who’s who of fast men just five days before RCS Sport’s spring classic, Milano-Sanremo.

This year, RCS Sport will celebrate its 50th edition of Tirreno. In the 49 races before, Belgian Roger De Vlaeminck counts the most wins, six. De Vlaeminck also won Paris-Roubaix four times, Milano-Sanremo three times, the Giro di Lombardia twice, a Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Since 2006, Tirreno-Adriatico’s podium celebrated mostly grand tour stars like Cadel Evans, Nibali, and 2014 winner, Contador. Evans used it as a launch pad for his 2011 Tour win, Nibali after his 2013 title, went on to win the Giro d’Italia, and Contador underlined his return to the top after a doping ban.

All four grand tour stars — Froome, Contador, Quintana, and Nibali — will try to win the race but will also use it as preparation for their bigger goals.

Contador will race to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France overall this year. His boss and team Tinkov-Saxo owner, Russian multimillionaire Oleg Tinkov challenged all four to race the three grand tours in 2015. If they did so, he would pay €1m ($1.18m) to the best of the three races or €250,000 ($295,000) to each rider.

“It’s not a question of money, but programming, goals and a lifestyle choice,” Nibali told Italian website, Tutto Bici.

“Cyclists are away from home often. We neglect our family to go races or to train for long periods at camps. Fitting in three grand tours would not be humane.”

Contador is the only one of four who will line up for the Giro when it starts May 9 in Liguria; the others agreed with Nibali.

The 50th Tirreno-Adriatico will be the only head-to-head challenge prior to the Tour and will allow fans to compare the four directly.

The Tour organizer ASO also runs the Paris-Nice stage race at the same time in mid-March. The four have seemingly looked toward Tirreno’s French counterpart, shrugged their shoulders, raised their eyebrows and with pursed lips, gave a “Pff!”

Tirreno truly has reason to celebrate its golden anniversary. Besides the Tour, it could be the only other event where all four stars line up together in 2015.