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MILAN (AFP) — This year’s edition of Tirreno-Adriatico. which gets under way Wednesday, promises to be an open and exciting race, not the least due to the absence of the dominant Chris Froome (Sky).
The reigning Tour de France champion pulled out at the end of last week due to a back injury that has kept him sidelined since winning the Tour of Oman in late February.
It meant a quick reshuffle on Sky, bringing Australian Richie Porte and 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins over from the Paris-Nice team.
Consequently, Italy’s “Race of the two Seas” is likely to overshadow France’s “Race to the sun” this year.
It boasts a formidable lineup with former Tour winners Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lining up alongside Wiggins, who is expected to play super-domestique to Porte — who will lead Sky at the Giro d’Italia in May.
Colombia’s Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who was third in the 2013 Tour, along with American Vuelta a Espana champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) and former Giro winners Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), and Michele Scarponi (Astana), will ensure the racing from one side of Italy to the other is fierce.
It won’t just be the overall victory that will be keenly contested, as most of the best sprinters in the world, from Briton Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) to Germans Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), are in the peloton.
And then there are time trial specialists Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and current world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma), as well as Wiggins, alongside punchers Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
All that’s missing, it seems, to make it a field as tough as you would expect to find in the Tour itself are Froome, world champion Rui Costa (Lampre), and current Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), the latter two having opted for Paris-Nice this year.
Froome would have started as a favorite in Italy. Instead, many eyes will be keenly watching the 29-year-old Porte to see whether he can step up to the level of team leader.
Porte finished an impressive second in the Critérium du Dauphiné last year and won Paris-Nice.
And the field here is probably even tougher than that he will face at May’s Giro, where Quintana could provide the biggest challenge to his title hopes.
“I have been a professional now for years and I have never done Tirreno,” Porte said in a report on Sunday, before explaining why his team swapped him so abruptly from the French race to the Italian one.
“I have always done Paris-Nice and other than last year it has always been the race I’ve always been the most nervous about all season.
“I looked at the Paris-Nice route this year and it was not one that suited me. If the Paris-Nice course was the same as last year, I would still be racing Paris-Nice, but it’s not. It’s a different race with the same name.”
The main differences between Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice this year is that the former has two summit finishes, a 16.9km team time trial, and a 9.2km individual time trial to top off the seven-day race.
Paris-Nice, on the other hand, has no time trials or tough mountain stages, meaning Porte’s chances of overall victory looked better in Italy.