Tirreno-Adriatico continues upwards incline for 2013

Nibali, Wiggins, Evans, Contador, Schleck set for Italian showdown in March

DOHA (VN) — Tirreno-Adriatico, based on a route announced today, will again be a race for grand tour stars rather than sprinters racing towards Milan-San Remo in 2013. The seven-day stage race across central Italy, which opens March 6, features two mountain legs, including a return to the uphill finish at the Prati di Tivo ski station.

Vincenzo Nibali won the race overall last year with Liquigas-Cannondale. He conquered the Prati di Tivo mountain finish and then wrestled the blue leader’s jersey from an ailing Chris Horner in the final-stage time trial at San Benedetto del Tronto.

The Sicilian returns again this year with Astana and will face off with Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and his Sky teammate, baby Giro d’Italia winner Joe Dombrowski. Organizer RCS Sports also expects Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Trek) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) to take that start.

They will face difficulties similar to last year’s route. Cutting the country in half, from the Tyrrhenian to Adriatic Sea, the race starts and ends with time trials, and features two possible sprint finishes, two high mountain stages, and one medium mountain stage.

The time trials are nearly carbon copies of 2012: A team test in San Vincenzo, in southern Tuscany, on day one and a seaside individual version to decide things on the final day in San Benedetto del Tronto. Before the riders get to the Adriatic coast, however, they have to cross through Umbria, Abruzzo and Le Marche. It’s beautiful but mountainous.

Only two stages might possibly end in sprints: day two to Indicatore on the outskirts of Arezzo and the following day to Narni Scalo.

Sky dominated the two flat finishes last year with Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen. RCS Sport left little else for the sprinters. In fact, Tirreno-Adriatico has not seen a sprinter win the overall title since Oscar Freire in 2005. Since then, the race has changed its attitude and brought back the individual time trial.

Still, the majority of sprinters hoping to win Milan-San Remo four days later still prefer Tirreno-Adriatico to Paris-Nice. Paris-Nice offers nearly the same racing and training, but wraps up two days earlier and does not offer the same Italian vibe needed for la “Classicissima.”

RCS Sport throws in plenty of mountain passes for the fast men to train on and enough for the climber types to sort out the GC. The big decider will come after 14.5km of climbing to Prati di Tivo. The climb tops out at 1,450 meters, where last year skiers took a break to watch from the surrounding snow banks.

Nibali won the stage over the likes of Roman Kreuziger, Chris Horner, Michele Scarponi, Joaquím Rodríguez. With the mixture of time trial and mountain kilometers, Wiggins will be looking over the race’s website from his team’s training camp in Spain tonight and making plans.

The 2012 Tour king will have to deal with a couple tricky obstacles before going home with Neptune’s Trident trophy.

In between the ski station and coast, the race weaves through the Apennine Mountains in the Abruzzo and Le Marche regions. The marathon stage to Chieti is the same nail-biter where last year Peter Sagan zipped away on the uphill ramp to the city center. The next stage completes three circuits around Porto Sant’Elpidio. This is the same treacherous land where in last year’s Giro Garmin was put through the wringer to defend Ryder Hesjedal after losing Tyler Farrar to a crash.

As RCS Sport technical and sport director Stefano Allocchio said in a press release, “It is sure to be exceedingly hard fought and a great spectacle.”

2013 Tirreno-Adriatico stages
March 6: Stage 1 TTT, San Vincenzo — Donoratico (16.9km)
March 7: Stage 2, San Vincenzo — Indicatore (232km)
March 8: Stage 3, Indicatore — Narni Scalo (190km)
March 9: Stage 4, Narni — Prati di Tivo (173km)
March 10: Stage 5, Ortona — Chieti (230km)
March 11: Stage 6, Porto Sant’Elpidio — Porto Sant’Elpidio (209km)
March 12: Stage 7 ITT, San Benedetto del Tronto (9.2km)