SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (VN) — This week’s rain-soaked Tirreno-Adriatico taught us some important lessons heading into the season’s first monument at Milano-Sanremo on Sunday.
Italy’s 300km one-day race, “la Classicissima,” is often described as a bottle of bubbly, shaking and shaking until its cork pops in one big explosion. Tirreno-Adriatico, continuing with that analogy, reveals just what type of bubbly we will be drinking when the bottle pops on the Italian Riviera on Sunday afternoon.
What lessons did we learn in Tirreno-Adriatico over the last seven days?
Weather will shape the race
Mother Nature shapes cycling, a fact underlined this week at Tirreno-Adriatico. Rain fell on the peloton every day expect for the stage to Chieti won by Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
The peloton cut through flooded roads and suffered in chilly temperatures. The weather weeded out quite a few contenders for stage wins and made racing risky — no more so than on Monday when Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) led an attack on the rain-slickened Sant’Elpidio a Mare climb and its technical descent.
Forecasters are calling for a high of 5 degrees Celcius and snow on Sunday in Milan. Sanremo will not be much better, climbing to 10 degrees, but raining. This could be the first inclement Milano-Sanremo since Claudio Chiappucci won in 1991.
The weather, specifically if it’s bad, will change the outcome. If a headwind greets the peloton heading along the coast, it then shifts the race into the sprinters’ hands as everyone hides in the group. A tailwind will encourage an attacking race like in 2012 when Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) outwitted Nibali and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) after an attack on the Poggio climb.
“If it rains, it changes it all,” said Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), the 2006 winner. “The roads turn slippery, especially with the olive trees leaving slick residue on the Cipressa.”
Terminator is top favorite
Peter Sagan won two nasty, rain-soaked stages – in Narni Scalo and Porto Sant’Elpidio – over the last week. In both instances, he handled the climbs in the closing kilometers and sprinted for the win. The 300km “Classica di Primavera” is a different beast, but Sagan showed he has what is needed to attack along the Italian Riviera or out-kick the bunch in Sanremo.
Cannondale proved capable of supporting the Slovak. On Monday, the Italian team took the race in hand in the final 20 kilometers, set up Sagan for the Sant’Elpidio a Mare climb, and won. And with Moreno Moser, winner ahead of Sagan at Strade Bianche, the Italian green team also has a second card to play.
Sagan has enjoyed a rocket-like rise since 2010. Over the winter, he said that a monument win was on his “To Do” list. Based on his two stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico, he is favorito numero uno on Sunday.
Of course there are others — GC winner Nibali and former Sanremo winners Cancellara, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) are among the favorites — but none proved to be as versatile as the Terminator at the “Race of the Two Seas.”
A different Sky was precise
In Tirreno-Adriatico, Sky showed precision-like control. Apart from Monday’s stage to Porto Sant’Elpidio, the British team never faltered. It will bring an entirely different roster to Milano-Sanremo on Sunday, but over the last week, and in Paris-Nice, Sky proved that it knows what it is doing.
What is it doing? For the first time in history, an entire classics team skipped the two major stage races in March and instead traveled to a Spanish island off the west coast of Africa, Tenerife, to train.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas, and Bernhard Eisel, based on what we have seen, will be a serious force in Milano-Sanremo. Thomas nearly won the overall at the Santos Tour Down Under in January and was fourth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month. The Milano-Sanremo parcours is tailor-made for an all-rounder like Boasson Hagen, and Eisel, one of the most skilled road captains in the bunch, was fifth at the Tour of Qatar.
After an ultimately disappointing Sanremo in 2012, when world champion Mark Cavendish abandoned before the Cipressa, Sky has a realistic hope for eyeing the podium.
La Classicissima e’ importantissimo
Milano-Sanremo moved one day later this year, from Saturday to Sunday. The shift leaves an extra day of rest, and perhaps stress, between Tirreno and Sanremo.
Given the big one-day race is around the corner, many of the big names preferred to abandon Monday’s wet and wild stage around Porto Sant’Elpidio. Their attention to detail and recovery is a reminder that the classics are coming up and that Milano-Sanremo is important.
Others, like Cancellara, Sagan, and Nibali, rode through the final-day TT on Tuesday. With an extra day of rest this year after Sanremo moved from Saturday, we will see on Sunday who played the final days of Tirreno correctly.