The 50th running of Tirreno-Adriatico offers the cycling world a double dose of WorldTour racing for a few days in March as it overlaps with Paris-Nice in France. The Italian stage race boasts a startlist that includes three of the top four Tour de France favorites (Chris Froome was on the startlist but has withdrawn with a chest infection), elite sprinters, and a bevy of Classics stars tuning up for the one-day races around the corner. Recent history would suggest that this race is an important test for those stars hoping to stand at cycling’s center stage. After winning here last season, Alberto Contador went on to nab quite a collection of results over the course of the rest of his year. In fact, the last six editions in a row have been won by riders who either already had or would go on to add Grand Tour victories to their palmares. No other one-week stage race can boast such a consistent correlation between its winners and the winners of the sport’s biggest events.
With chrono mileage, sprint stages, bumpier days, and a brutal summit finish all along the route, Tirreno-Adriatico has all the makings of a mini-Grand Tour. Stage 1 is a flat, 5.7-kilometer individual time trial that replaced a TTT at the last moment. Something this short isn’t likely to shake up the GC all that much but it can’t be overlooked either. Meanwhile, some of the more powerful sprinters on the startlist will appreciate the chance to get a rare chrono victory. They will have another chance to shine on the short and flat Stage 2, which will almost certainly end in a bunch gallop.
Things get a bit more interesting on Stage 3, where the peloton will overcome cobbles and some short climbs in the second half of the day likely to favor the punchier riders. Stage 4 poses several challenges, with climbs of the Poggio San Romualdo and Monte San Vicino followed by back-back ascents of the short but steep Crispiero climb, almost certain to launch late attacks.
Stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico will put the peloton to the test with a summit finish on the Terminillo climb. 16.1 kilometers at 7.3%, it’s a long slog to the top that will put serious pain into the legs of anyone coming into this race out of shape.
Bauke Mollema told the Recon Ride that this was going to be a climb for the “strong guys” where long-term wattage would be key, and it’s easy to see why.
Stage 6 brings the riders back down towards sea level and should end in a bunch sprint. The seventh and final stage is a flat, 10 kilometer ITT, one final chance for GC action on the last day of the race. From start to finish, it is a balanced route that will require a complete skillset to win. Bonus seconds of 10-6-4 at finishes (and 3-2-1 at intermediate sprints) will benefit those with some punch.
General Classification Contenders
For weeks this was set up to be a clash of cycling’s “Big Four,” the four top favorites for the Tour de France, but Chris Froome withdrew from the startlist with a chest infection, leaving only three of those Grand Tour stars to battle it out with the rest of the contenders. It should still be quite a show.
Defending champion Alberto Contador will enter the race as the top favorite, with his combination of strong time trialing and elite climbing legs, and having shown great form in the Ruta del Sol, where only Froome could beat him. He dominated this race last year and it given his abilities it’s easy to see him head and shoulders above the competition again. Roman Kreuziger, who seems to be in excellent shape right now, will make for a strong support rider or a deadly alternative.
The alteration of Stage 1 from a TTT to an ITT helps Contador even more: his biggest rival looks to be last year’s runner-up Nairo Quintana, who rides for a Movistar team that would have likely put in an excellent performance in the group chrono; now, Quintana must go against the clock by himself, twice. That said, Quintana will have his opportunities to strike for glory on the challenging slopes that await in Tirreno-Adriatico, and he did show some form in January at the Tour de San Luis, where he was 3rd and even put in a decent ride in a mostly flat ITT. Quintana gets better every year (he just turned 25 in February), and he will relish the opportunity to climb one step higher on the podium than he did in the 2014 edition of the race.
Vincenzo Nibali has won here twice, and in top shape he would merit more consideration as the top overall favorite, but has not shown a great deal of form so far this season. He may be following a pattern similar to the one he followed last year, slowly building to his Tour de France peak; it certainly worked out for him in 2014. Furthermore, the route isn’t ideal for him, with its double helping of ITT days. Still, Nibali has gone from showing little form to riding at an elite level very quickly in the past. If that is what he has in mind for Tirreno-Adriatico, watch for him to try to take an early advantage on Stage 3, where short steep climbs will provide launching pads and late descents could help Nibali, a brilliant descender, escape from the peloton if he makes the attempt. A powerful team that includes Dario Cataldo, Michele Scarponi, and Lieuwe Westra will give Astana options.
The form of Joaquim Rodríguez, who typically merits inclusion among the top favorites in a stage race, is a major unknown after quiet starts in Dubai and Oman. The course doesn’t suit him particularly well either, though Purito can never be counted out. Daniel Moreno is here for Katusha as well. Unlike Rodríguez, Moreno has put in decent rides in San Luis and Oman already this season.
New Colombian ITT champ Rigoberto Urán flashed some form in Strade Bianche, where he was 7th, and this is an excellent parcours for him. Tirreno-Adriatico has difficult climbs, but nothing of the incredibly steep variety that might put him into difficulty against the likes of Contador. For Urán, the time trials and potential for bonus seconds (his finishing kick is impressive) on a few stages will be a golden opportunity to challenge the defending champion, as well as the only two riders who have finished the Giro ahead of him the past two season, Nibali and Quintana.
Bauke Mollema will lead the charge for Trek Factory Racing, and he says that he’s feeling good after an offseason with his new team, which a string of good results in early season races seems to confirm. Julián Arredondo gives Trek another dangerous option on the climbs.
Despite the absence of Chris Froome, Sky will still have a strong presence in Tirreno-Adriatico. Leopold König sports a strong time trial and can climb with the best on a good day and Mikel Nieve was 4th in the Ruta del Sol in February. Both riders should be motivated to take advantage of the opportunity to ride for their own results.
AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo would probably prefer more mountains, but he can’t be ignored here. He was 6th last year, and is coming off a nice ride in the Tour Down Under. Teammate Carlos Betancur is a bit of a wildcard, brilliant at his best but not having shown any form since this time last year. Cannondale-Garmin will have the weapons to make for an interesting race with Ryder Hesjedal, Davide Formolo, and Daniel Martin. FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot would prefer less chrono mileage but he has improved in that discipline over the past few seasons and will hope to make up any time he loses in the ITTs on the climbs in the middle of the race. New teammate Steve Morabito is VeloHuman’s Under-the-radar rider for Tirreno-Adriatico. After several years at BMC working as a reliable support rider, Morabito joined FDJ over the offseason. He’s a great climber and decent in the time trials, but he did not get many opportunities to ride for himself at BMC. It should be clear pretty early on in this race whether he is being given a chance to get his own results; if he is, he should surprise some people. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Pierre Rolland, and Louis Meintjes are other outsiders with a shot.
Much like Froome among the GC contenders, a sick Marcel Kittel withdrew from the race and the sprinters conversation, leaving Mark Cavendish looking like the top rider for the sprints. He will still have competition, however, especially as he and leadout man Mark Renshaw are both overcoming illness. Sky’s new acquisition Elia Viviani has beaten Cavendish more than once in the past and will hope to do so here. IAM’s Matteo Pelucchi is in great shape right now and should be in the mix. Bora-Argon 18’s Sam Bennett won a hotly contested sprint stage in Qatar and will be dangerous in the fast finishes. Peter Sagan will likely be involved in the bunch sprints as well, and will be especially dangerous on Stage 3, which finishes in Arezzo, where he won last year. Lampre’s Sacha Modolo, Giant’s Luka Mezgec, and Tyler Farrar and Matt Goss of MTN-Qhubeka are other fast men to watch out for.
With two chrono stages, the time trial talents merit a mention as well: Adriano Malori, Fabian Cancellara, Ian Stannard, and Niki Terpstra should all appreciate the pair of opportunities to pick up WorldTour stage wins against the clock at the open and close of the race.
VeloHuman Top 10 GC Favorites
Winner: Alberto Contador
Podium: Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán
Other Top Contenders: Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema, Domenico Pozzovivo, Roman Kreuziger, Thibaut Pinot, Joaquim Rodríguez, Leopold König
For daily stage predictions and more Tirreno-Adriatico commentary, be sure to follow @VeloHuman on Twitter. And of course, don’t miss the Recon Ride for Tirreno-Adriatico 2015, which covers all the big storylines of the race and even includes a bit of insider insight from GC contender Bauke Mollema.
Photo by Francesco Ianett.