Top Talent Everywhere at Tirreno-Adriatico
Being able to watch two WorldTour stage races at the same time is almost too good to be true. Paris-Nice has kicked off already, and it’s been a thrilling ride so far, with three different sprinters winning the opening three stages; Bouhanni and Degenkolb were well above the competition in stages 1 and 3, respectively, and Moreno Hofland (VH did tell you he looked great this season!) made a brilliant WorldTour entrance on stage 2. There is even more action on the way tomorrow with the beginning of the “Race of the Two Seas,” boasting a start list packed with talent from all angles and specialties. While Paris-Nice took an unconventional approach to stage planning this year, drawing up a course with no mountaintop finishes and no time trials, Tirreno-Adriatico looks to be an archetypical stage race, opening with a team time trial, offering a few flat sprinters’ days and a few days in the mountains for the climbers, and then closing with an individual time trial. This race was made for a true blue GC rider at the head of a strong team.
Before I dive in: don’t forget to follow the just-launched @VeloHuman on Twitter for more news and views during the race! And as usual, if you just want to cut straight to the GC Top 10 predictions, they’re at the bottom of this post.
True blue GC riders leading strong teams are all over the startlist. First on the docket is a rider who wasn’t scheduled to ride this race until just this weekend, when Plan A, Chris Froome (who was 2nd last year to Vincenzo Nibali, currently at Paris-Nice), withdrew from Tirreno-Adriatico with back pain. Richie Porte steps into his place. The Australian was set to defend his Paris-Nice title, but he may have lucked out; with his combination of TT ability and long haul climbing, T-A seems to suit him much better than P-N. He’ll also have the benefit of a great chrono team on the opening stage, as Sky brings Bradley Wiggins, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Dario Cataldo, and Ian Stannard as well. Wiggins was another late addition, and after he announced a plan to also ride the Volta a Catalunya, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sir Bradley with his own GC ambitions.
Tinkoff Saxo’s Alberto Contador nabbed 3rd place and the Points Classification of last year’s edition. He’s off to a hot start, winning a stage and taking 2nd in the Volta ao Algarve. He’ll bring quite a team to the 2014 race, with elite climbers Nicolas Roche and Roman Kreuziger (also looking sharp) to serve as impressive seconds. Tinkoff-Saxo will be a very difficult team to beat.
Nairo Quintana and his Movistar squad will also bring serious firepower, with a squad well selected for this race: Quintana will love the uphill mileage but he’ll struggle on the final day’s time trial; good thing for him that Movistar is likely to set him up nicely from the first stage with some top men against the clock, including Alex Dowsett, Jonathan Castroviejo and Adriano Malori. Benat Intxausti, Igor Anton, Eros Capecchi, and Andrey Amador (surprisingly 8th here last year), will provide quite a buffer of talent on the hills as well. With the kind of form he showed in the Tour de San Luis, Quintana could put serious time on anyone not climbing at an elite level right now. I think it’s likely he will.
BMC’s Cadel Evans has looked good in the early goings, and he’s won here in the past. With his all-round abilities, he can be a strong player in the GC game at this race. Other than Philippe Gilbert, he won’t have the name recognition supporting him that the other big GC guys will have, but Darwin Atapuma will make a strong ally on the slopes.
OPQS is bringing a pairing of potential team leaders, making it difficult for opponents to plan accordingly. One of the hottest riders in the peloton right now is Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, and he’ll roll into T-A as a great candidate for the overall, especially with the stalwart support of the team’s world-beating time trial skills giving him an advantage right out of the gate. He’s also a good pick to have the best final day chrono of any GC contender, as he excels in that discipline, especially over short distances. Meanwhile, OPQS is also sending top climber Rigoberto Uran, who will be a favorite on both mountain stages, and who will also be helped by the TTT. He was one of the strongest riders in the Tour of Oman, where he finished on the podium.
I think the top of the leaderboard will be very tight among these top favorites. All of them are big names with big support and proven Grand Tour style talent, with the exception of Kwiatkowksi, who makes up for what he lacks in experience with on fire form. But this is one of the most impressive startlists you’ll see for a one week stage race this year, and that doesn’t simply apply to the top favorites.
A number of challenger squads are taking a 1-2 punch approach: Belkin’s pairing of Robert Gesink (looking sharp so far) and Bauke Mollema will make them very difficult to plan against; both riders are very well-rounded, which will be helpful in this race. Garmin-Sharp brings their own top duo of Andrew Talansky and Daniel Martin, and there’s something for both of them here: Andrew Talansky has the big tank necessary for the long haul climb of stage 4 (and the finishing time trial), while Martin is just the type of rider to explode up the sloping finish of stage 5, and his style won’t be too hampered by the time trial, which will be short enough that he can probably cope; however, the form of both Garmin riders is an unknown. AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo and Jean-Christophe Peraud, both excellent uphill sloggers and both off to strong starts this year, will make a formidable mini-train when the road goes skyward. Lampre-Merida could go with the hot hand of Italian wunderkind Diego Ulissi, a force in the bonus seconds game and a strong presence at the Tour Down Under, or with newly acquired vet Chris Horner, who, despite being teamless for most of the offseason, looked like he hadn’t lost much form when he took to the slopes at the Volta ao Algarve. Astana sends former winner Michele Scarponi, looking alright so far this year, and Tanel Kangert, who gets better at climbing every day.
Dani Moreno gets to race on his own in a rare occurrence, and he tends to do well enough as it is when he’s second to Purito; watch out for him here with bonus seconds in play and an ITT short enough not to disadvantage him too heavily. Thibaut Pinot pulled out of Oman, making his form an unknown, but he’s a contender if he’s in shape, though FDJ’s weak TTT squad won’t help his cause; Alexandre Geniez is another option. Europcar’s Pierre Rolland is in a similar boat. Jurgen van den Broeck hasn’t showed much this year, but he’ll head up Lotto’s GC ambitions. Ivan Basso is yet another bringing unknown form but obvious talent. Robert Kiserlovski is probably Trek’s go to GC man, and he’ll at least have a decent start thanks to Cancellara and Co. in the opening stage.
The list of riders here to chase stages is perhaps even more impressive. The four biggest names in sprinting will be in attendance, namely, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, and Peter Sagan. Greipel looks amazing right now and Kittel took several wins in Dubai. Mark Cavendish got started a bit later than Greipel and Kittel, but he took a stage win against very talented sprinters in the Volta ao Algarve. Sagan is his usual self, probably just a hair behind the big three pure sprinters but always lurking, and he’ll be gunning for the slightly uphill third stage finish. FDJ’s Arnaud Demare (who can probably handle stage 3 as well), Lampre’s very hot Sacha Modolo, MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek, and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Daniele Bennati and Michael Morkov will try to nab a sprint victory from the bigger names. Philippe Gilbert could also feature on the third stage. I’d love to see a guy like Sam Bennett take a stage win here but with such a talented field, it’s hard to see guys on the fringe with much of a shot.
Not to be outdone by the caliber of sprinting talent in attendance, the three biggest names in time-trialing will set out from Donoratico as well: Tony Martin, Bradley Wiggins, and Fabian Cancellara. The final stage will be a treat for fans of chronos with so many TT specialists and GC contenders with TT ability gunning for victory. Orica-GreenEdge seems to have brought a squad hellbent on performing in both the opening team time trial and the final short ITT, with Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Cam Meyer and Svein Tuft all making the start. Every stage of this race really will feature top talents in every cycling specialty.
GC Winner: Nairo Quintana
GC Podium: Michal Kwiatkowski, Richie Porte
GC Top 10: Alberto Contador, Rigoberto Uran, Domenico Pozzovivo, Cadel Evans, Diego Ulissi, Robert Gesink, Andrew Talansky
Check back in soon for post-race analysis and the next VH race preview (Milano-Sanremo is less than two weeks away). In the meantime, look for more news and views @VeloHuman on Twitter.
Photo by Antonio Cinotti.